At the beginning of the 1850s, the newly formed newspaper, The Southern Patriot, under Benjamin F. Perry and C.L. Elford, published a description of the budding town. It said, “There are in the town of Greenville 25 merchants, many of whom sell from $20 to $50,000 worth of goods in the course of a year, and on as reasonable terms as they can be purchased at retail in Charleston. We have frequently heard this remark made by our visitors from the lower country during the summer season. The cheapness of living and of house rent should enable them to do this. And there is no village in the whole State where the merchants are more thoroughly businessmen in all the branches of commerce. Our mechanics, too, constitute a numerous and most respectable class in our town, and not surpassed anywhere, in point of character, intelligence, industry, and skill. There are in this place 12 carriage makers, 12 blacksmiths, 10 carpenters, 5 brick masons, 5 cabinet makers, 8 shoemakers, 6 saddlers, 5 painters, 18 clerks, 12 tailors, 5 landlords, 10 lawyers, 5 physicians, 2 dentists, 4 or 5 harness makers, 1 baker, 2 millers, 5 schoolmasters, 1 grocer, 1 bookbinder, 1 portrait painter, 2 watchmakers, 1 druggist, etc.”
Two amenities, missing at the beginning of the decade, would soon come and take the town to the next level.
The first was in 1851, when Furman moved to Greenville from Winnsboro, a milestone that marked the beginning of higher educational opportunities for Greenville’s citizens. At first, these Baptist students met in McBee’s Hall on the northwest corner of [McBee] Avenue and Main but soon the men’s campus developed on the West End bluff overlooking the Reedy Falls. The former Male and Female Academy campus off of Buncombe Street was expanded to be the sister campus, the Greenville Female College.
The second major factor that cannot be underestimated in its impact: the coming of the railroad in 1853 connecting Greenville directly to Columbia, Charleston and other Southern cities. The potential for expanded commerce and ease of travel guaranteed Greenville’s future growth. Furthermore, the mid-1850s saw unprecedented growth in building and changes in its skyline all around town. In 1854, the Episcopalians built their new brick sanctuary on the corner of E. North and Church while in the West End, the Old Main and bell tower structures of Furman’s men’s campus provided a new bird’s-eye view of the town.
At Court Square, the new Gothic-style courthouse was built at the eastern end in 1855, followed by the erection of Grady & Goodlett’s new dry goods store on the southeast corner of the square [now Soby’s]. On the river, Cox & Markley’s carriage factory built an impressive brick building in 1857 [now Larkin’s on the River] and a few blocks north the Baptists built their classically inspired new sanctuary [now Grace Church] on W. [McBee] Avenue in 1858.
Despite all of the progress, the decade was fraught with heated debate over South Carolina’s secession from the Union. The outcome of this issue would determine the fate of the entire next decade.
John M. Nolan is owner of Greenville History Tours (greenvillehistorytours.com) and author of “A Guide to Historic Greenville, SC” and “Lost Restaurants of Greenville, SC.”