Historic Greenville, South Carolina Driving Tour
This tour explores the history throughout Greenville including stops at museums, historic buildings, markers and monuments, and local landmarks.
Located in the heart of Greenville, Falls Park is where the city got its start. Today, it is a popular place for recreation, but for several decades it was the site of textile mills that contributed to the city's development in the 19th and 20th centuries. The park is named after the Reedy River Falls, which plunges 50 feet into a rocky gorge. There are several walking paths and a curved pedestrian bridge (the Liberty Bridge) that crosses over the river, giving people a view of the falls. The park also features ruins of mills and public art.
Opened in 2008, the "Shoeless" Joe Jackson museum is home to the famous baseball player Joe Jackson. Jackson is most famously known for his involvement with the "Black Sox' scandal of 1919. The museum is located in his original home in Greenville, SC where he lived and died. Inside the museum are an array of displays of artifacts, photographs, films, and other items associated Jackson's life and baseball career. This museum has been locally funded and volunteer operated since its opening.
This area of Greenville includes the former Huguenot Mill (182), Greenville Coach factory (1850s), and Markely Hardware Store and Carriage Factory (1915). The Greenville Coach Factory was once the largest carriage producing factory below the Potomac. During the height of it's years in production it was estimated that the factory held up to a hundred workers. However, due to the rise of the automobile industry in the 1890s, the demand for carriages plummeted and in the year 1911 the owner sold the factory after seventy six years in business. In 1925 the factory was reopened for production after it was bought by Mrs. Eugenia Duke, who shifted production from carriages to Duke's Mayonnaise. In 1929, the building was sold to C.F. Saver but still operated under the name of "Duke." After 29 years operating in the Greenville factory, the company moved production to a much larger building off Laurens Road built in 1955 leaving the original factory vacant by the year 1958. Today, the area has been converted into a historic district that demonstrates the city's transition to industry at the turn of the century.
Standing prominently in Court Square in downtown Greenville, the Chamber of Commerce Building was one of the city's first skyscrapers. Constructed in 1925, it was built in the midst of a prosperous period for Greenville, whose economy was driven by the thriving textile industry. The building's Neoclassical design reflects this period and the optimism the city had for the future. The ten-story building features a Flemish brick bond exterior, classical stone detailing, tall arched windows on the tenth floor, and a prominent metal cornice at the top. In 1982, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It appears to be an office building today.
This statue depicts one of the most prominent national figures of the 19th century, Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851). A man of many interests, Poinsett was a diplomat, statesman, botanist, and scholar. He was the first United States minister to Mexico, serving from 1825 to 1829, and is perhaps best known for introducing the poinsettia plant to America. The plant, which is native to Mexico, is called "Flor de Nochebuena" in Spanish, but in America, it was named after him. Poinsett, who was born in Charleston, also served in the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina. He owned a summer home in Greenville and a plantation on the Peedee River. Although he owned slaves, Poinsett argued for the gradual end of slavery during the 1830s when most other white South Carolinians were presenting slavery as something that must be preserved and expanded. Poinsett also served as the president of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science whose collections were transferred to the Smithsonian in the 1850s. The statue is located in Court Square in the heart of downtown Greenville.
The Greenville County Courthouse was built in a Beaux Arts Style and completed in 1918. The Courthouse served as the headquarters of county government until 1950. Three years prior to the transition, this historic courthouse hosted one of the most controversial trials of the era. The trial involved charges against white men who had murdered Willie Earle in public. Thirty-one white men were charged in the murder, but despite clear evidence of their participation in Earle's lynching, the all-white jury found each of the defendants not guilty on all counts. The trial led to increased awareness of the difficulty in securing justice for African American victims of lynching.
A skyscraper reaching 12 stories high, the Poinsett Hotel is every travelers dream. This famous hotel was built during the peak of Greenville's "building boom". It's interior and exterior feature magnificent woodwork and prestige construction. The hotel grew to become one of the most popular hotels of the 1940s-1950s in all of South Carolina. It hand many setbacks in the later years but it has now reopened and is better than ever.
Constructed in 1938, this downtown building is significant for its architecture as well as its association with the National Bank of Greenville, the first national bank chartered in the state of South Carolina. The institution later changed its name to First National Bank. In terms of architecture, the building is Greenville's only major example of an Art Deco structure and is now a branch location of TD Bank.
Constructed in 1897, this building was originally home to the Stradley & Barr Dry Goods Store. The mercantile business was established in Greensville in the era of Reconstruction and changed names in 1883 when one of the three partners retired and his share of the business was purchased by Stradley and Barr. The store offered a variety of goods, including clothing for men and women including an early advertisement for "the best 50 cent corset made." By 1904, Stradley and Barr had parted ways and operated competing dry goods stores a few blocks apart, with Barr's Dry Goods in this South Main building and C. D. Stradley & Co. two blocks north. Efird's Department Store occupied the ca. 1898 structure by 1919. This commercial building was listed in the National Register in 2008.
Originally built in 1825, Christ Church is the oldest church building in the city of Greenville,SC. In the year 1845, the church would be rebuilt due to the expanding congregation and have a courtyard added on to it. Throughout the years the church body continued to grow to 4,000 members and would charter a connecting school. The church is now currently listed under the National Register of Historical Places.
The Fountain Fox Beattie House is the third oldest building in Greenville, dating to about 1834. The Beattie family occupied the home for over a hundred years, until 1938. The house was saved from demolition in the 1940s and moved by the city to its current location and renovated for a community meeting space. The house was owned by the city and served for decades as the Greenville Woman's Club until the cost of upkeep became too much for the club's dwindling and aging membership. The club closed in 2014 and a competition was launched by the City of Greenville to find prospective buyers of the vacant property and the winners were a couple with young children who agreed to renovate the historic home as their private residence with preservation easements in place. The house was listed on the National Register in 1974.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Kilgore-Lewis House is one of the oldest homes in the city. It was built around 1838 and is named after Josiah Kilgore, who owned the house for some time, and the Lewis family, who were Kilgore family descendants. The house is now the headquarters of the Greenville Council of Garden Clubs and is located on a property that features an arboretum and gardens. Visitors can tour the property as well as inside the house. In terms of design, the house is a good example of Palladian architecture.
On July 16, 1960, Jackson, Dorris Wright, Hattie Smith Wright, Elaine Means, Willie Joe Wright, Benjamin Downs, Margaree Seawright Crosby, and Joan Daniel staged what is known as the Greenville Public Library sit-in. The eight students, led by Jesse Jackson (now a famous civil rights leader) entered the Greenville Public Library in South Carolina. They had been to the library previously and were turned away because they were black, and the branch was whites-only. On July 16th, however, the eight were determined to stay even in the face of arrest. They browsed the shelves and all white patrons vacated the building. They would then in fact be arrested and released on a $30 bail a piece. This movement eventually caused the closure of the branch and all libraries to all citizens in the city of Greenville by the mayor who wished to deter further protests by closing the libraries to all people. The libraries then on September 19th were reopened and desegregated and the legacy of the Greenville eight is forever immortalized and memorialized among the efforts to desegregate public libraries.
The Greenville American Legion includes a small museum inside the building along with static displays of military equipment such as a 90 mm M-1/2/3 Anti-Aircraft Gun that was used throughout WWII and Korean War. Inside the building, one can see historic uniforms, medals, weapons, and artifacts from the Civil War to current conflicts.
The site that is now a parking lot next to the Municipal Court building in Greenville was once occupied by the Greenville Public Library. Like virtually public facilities in the South, the library was segregated, with the main branch on Main Street serving white patrons only. The "colored" branch was housed on East McBee Avenue and held a fraction of the books that the main branch had. In 1960, eight African American students (including Jesse Jackson) held a sit-in at the main branch and were arrested for disorderly conduct. Their actions led to the desegregation of Greenville's libraries later that year.
Now a private residence, this historic building is the former Beth Israel Synagogue, which was erected in 1929 by Congregation Beth Israel. It symbolizes the city's Jewish history and is a notable example of Classical Revival architecture. Designed by local architect Joseph G. Cunningham, the brick building features 17-inch thick walls, an impressive main entrance with two large Tuscan columns supporting a pediment, palladian windows, and decorative brick panels and two Star of Davids on the front facade. The old synagogue was listed to the National Register of Historic places in 2016.
Considered the premier American art museum in the South, the GCMA is home to the world’s largest public collection of watercolors by iconic American artist Andrew Wyeth. The GCMA also has an impressive collection of paintings and prints by contemporary artist Jasper Johns. Ranging from Federal portraits to contemporary abstractions, the GCMA’s acclaimed Southern Collection invites viewers to survey American art history through works with ties to the South. Of particular note is the exhibition The Content of Our Character: From States Rights to Civil Rights.
What was once an Indian Frontier is now the political and economical hub of upstate South Carolina. The Upcountry History Museum highlights the history of the this area, which ranges from its northern North Carolina border, along the Appalachian Mountains, to the Western part of the state bordering Georgia, and the central plains in between.
Whitehall was built by Henry Middleton, one of the Charleston area elites, as a summer home in the upcountry to escape the oppressive heat and humidity of the lowcountry. Middleton purchased the land from Elias T. Earle in 1813. Middleton sold the property in 1820 to George Washington Earle, the son of Elias. One of a handful of antebellum homes surviving in Greenville, it is one of only two that are still in their original location. The home's Barbadian style is an adaptation that creates an outdoor covered porch or piazza for catching the breeze while sipping some Carolina style sweet tea. Descendants of Earle still owned and occupied Whitehall when the mansion was listed in the National Register in 1969. It has been part of the Colonel Elias Earle Historic District since the 1980's.
The Earle Town House is perhaps the oldest home in Greenville and may date to 1810. A celebration of the house's centennial was held in 1910. The David family purchased the home from the Earle family in 1856, when one son, Charles A. David, was about three years old. Charles A. grew up to be a merchant and lived in the house until 1922. The Oliphant family owned the home from the 1920's until the 1980's and was the long-time home of a published historian. The Earle Town House was listed on the National Register in 1969. A grandiflora magnolia tree still living in 1969 was said to have been planted in 1856. No word on whether the owner in 2010 threw a bicentennial birthday bash for the house.
The American Spinning Company Mill No. 2 building was constructed in 1902. The five-story brick structure housed textile manufacturing operations until 1990. The complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016; in the same year, the property was sold to developers. There are plans by the new owners to rehabilitate the building into apartments or condominiums, like has been done successfully in some of the other brick behemoths in the region that once housed textile mills. State and federal tax credits have helped spur adaptive reuse in South Carolina, deemed by some as "mill madness." As one developer stated, where else are you going to find 18-foot-tall ceilings, 10-foot-tall windows, exposed brick, plus a piece of history?
Founded in 1923, Parker High School was a significant turning point for higher education regarding students in the mill villages surrounding Greenville, SC. The school would grow to become a standard of excellence becoming named a Top 10 School in the Nation between the years of 1955-1971. During the 1930s the school gained an auditorium, which would later become a significant example of the Works Progress Administration. The auditorium was added the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
The Woodside Mill was the cornerstone of the business empire in Greenville, SC. This mill was built by John T. Woodside in the year 1902. Woodside Mill would continue to grow, becoming the largest complete cotton mill in the United States, at its biggest period of growth it would come to house over 120,000 spindles. It would grow to become a village of houses, baseball fields, and churches. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.