Walking around downtown Greenville today, changes, growth, and progress are seen all around. There are many that embrace the changes and growth of the city. In fact, many have moved here because of it. There are plenty of people who don’t like the present state and direction in Greenville, too. These opposing views are not new to our city and will always be here. Having indulged in reading thousands of news articles from Greenville’s nineteenth and twentieth century newspapers, a recurring theme is the remarkable growth and progress of the city. An example from 1904 in many ways sounds like it could be written today:
“Even the man who lives here cannot realize the wonderful growth of the city, nor can the visitor from an older community where buildings are huddled closer together and vehicles rattle over Belgian blocks and possibly cobble stones … the city is too large and covers too much territory to be taken in at a glance. To comprehend the size of the city one must stand upon some of the hills for which it is famous and look down upon the handsome homes and public buildings that shelter its population, or watch Main Street, with its rows of splendid stores, where thousands of dollars change hands daily in the ordinary business of a city of merchants and manufacturers.”
Greenville’s street railway began construction in 1900 and soon expanded throughout the city. Large textile mills continued to be built outside of the city limits, beginning with Brandon, Monaghan, Fork Shoals, the Carolina, and Woodside mills all building up in the first years of the new century. Union Bleachery opened as the first bleaching operation in the state. Meanwhile, others like Mills Mill, Poe, American Spinning, and Camperdown No.2 expanded their operations and villages.
Now-familiar neighborhoods surrounding downtown like Earle Street, Hampton-Pinckney and Alta Vista began to build out with many of the homes that remain today. Main Street and side streets like Coffee, Washington, Laurens, McBee and Broad were built up with larger and taller brick buildings than in the previous century. The stage was being set for a level of growth and prosperity that Greenville hadn’t yet experienced.
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.”