Greenville County, South Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)



Major General Nathanael Greene


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

Click Here

1777 / Scots-Irish from PA & VA,

Click Here

Click Here

Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

Click Here

Coming Later

Click Here

Airports in Greenville County

Maps of Greenville County

Books About Greenville County

Genealogy Sources

Click Here

Click Here

Click Here

Click Here

A History of Greenville County

Old Greenville County Jail built in 1920 - Now Demolished

The origins of the name Greenville County are uncertain, but the county was probably named for Revolutionary War Major General Nathanael Greene (1742-1786) or for an early resident, Isaac Green. This part of the state was the territory of the Cherokee Indians until 1777. Scots-Irish and English settlers began moving into the area soon after it was ceded to the state. Greenville County was created in 1786 and was first in the overarching Ninety-Six District, but from 1791 to 1798 it was part of the new over-arching Washington District. From 1798 to 1800, it was part of the short-lived over-arching Pendleton District. In 1798, all counties were re-identified as "elective districts" to be effective on January 1, 1800, and at that time the Greenville District was no longer part of Pendleton.

The county seat was originally named Pleasantburg, but in 1831 the name was changed to Greenville. Because of its location in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Greenville District became a popular summer retreat for lowcountry planters. Encouraged by abundant streams and rivers, textile manufacturers began operating in the area as early as the 1820s, and after the American Civil War, Greenville County became a textile center. Diplomat and Congressman Waddy Thompson (1798-1868) was a resident of Greenville, and in more recent years the county has produced baseball player "Shoeless Joe" Jackson (1887-1951), Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes, and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.

People have been in these parts for a while. Archeological finds show that man started hunting in what is now Greenville County as far back as 10,000 B.C. From 10,000 to 1,000 B.C., Greenville's winters and summers resembled what the weather is like now in southern Canada. Native American tribes and territories were established from 1000 to 1600 AD. Trading among tribes started and wars were fought for territories.

The Cherokees lived in the region beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and all the land now called Greenville County was part of their hunting grounds. The Cherokees had settlements in what is now the city of Greer, and they held onto their land through more than a century of British colonial rule.

The Cherokees were active traders in deer hides and other frontier goods with lowcountry British settlers following the 1670 settlement of Charles Town. As the American Revolution neared, the Cherokee sided with the British and staged raids against white settlers in the Tyger and Enoree river basins. Settlers sought revenge and raided Cherokee settlements, driving them from the state after the "Trail of Tears" in 1838.

Around 1770, the first white settler — Richard Pearis — settled near the Reedy River Falls and established a plantation he called Great Plains.

Greenville County, which encompasses 795 square miles, was officially formed in 1786. It was named for Major General Nathanael Greene, Patriot commander of the Southern Theater during the American Revolution.

With the end of the Revolution, veterans of the war claimed Greenville as home, and in its first census in 1790 there were 6,503 residents.

By 1816, Vardry McBee generated signs of Greenville's earliest economic development with the construction of a saw mill, flour mill, and corn mill on the Reedy River. He also started brick making and stone quarrying and opened a general store. In 1835, Greenville's first coach and cart factory was built.

In 1820, Joel Poinsett, who served as state public works director, built the first road across the mountains in northern Greenville and established trade routes with North Carolina and Tennessee communities to make the area a crossroads of commerce.

The first railroad in the Greenville District - the Greenville & Columbia Railroad - was completed in 1854, and it helped to open the doors to manufacturing after Reconstruction.

Greenville District's 1860 census reported 14,631 whites and 7,261 African-Americans. In 1980, the county population had reached 287,913 and about 51,000 were African-Americans.

Greenville District was solidly Unionist until the outbreak of the American Civil War, when the Rev. James Clement Furman, president of Furman University and a Secessionist, persuaded many residents to change their minds. Furman preached orthodox religion and states rights at local Baptist churches.

During the Civil War, refugees came to Greenville, but the town wasn't in the path of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's march through Georgia and South Carolina, and it escaped the war unharmed.

By 1882, three textile mills — Vardry, Camperdown, and Huguenot — were built on the Reedy River, and by the 1930s Greenville had woven itself into a place that eventually would become known as the nation's textile center

Dunean Mills in the 1950s

With some of the nation's largest textile mills constructed on the city's western edge from the turn of the century to the 1930s, Greenville's "textile crescent" attracted more than 40,000 workers to weaving, spinning, and doffing jobs.

Cars and trolley cars started making the downtown scene in the early 1900s, and Greenville County was well on its way to becoming the upstate's economic center. The county's population by 1900 had grown to 53,487.

During that period, cookie-cutter mill houses on a number of villages and two-story Victorian homes for Greenville's well-to-do families on Pendleton, West Washington, Hampton, and Pinckney streets dominated the landscape.

With the expansion of textile mills and railroads and the daily migration of newcomers, Greenville was laying the early foundation of the metropolitan, industrial, and commercial center it would later become.

A daily newspaper called the Greenville News was established in 1874 by A.M. Speights. A weekly paper called the Mountaineer that had been published in Greenville since 1829 later became the Greenville Piedmont, a daily. It was purchased by B.H. Peace and his sons, owners of the Greenville News, in 1927, and the two papers merged in 1995.

During World War I, the army opened Camp Sevier outside the city, and more than 100,000 soldiers were trained there. A building boom paralleled the military growth, and progressives started a library system, expanded medical facilities and social service centers.

The Army Air Base (Donaldson) brought thousands of airmen to Greenville after World War II, and national companies purchased local textile mills and sold off their villages.

Postwar Greenville grew rapidly with industrial development led by Charles Daniel. Greenville Technical College opened in 1967. Civil rights tensions in the 1960s led to the organization of bi-racial committees to work together and ensure that racial unrest would not harm growth.

A.V. Huff, author of a history of Greenville, wrote that the Federal Highway Act of 1956 had as profound an influence on the region as the development of the railroads.

Interstate 85 became an industrial corridor noted nationally and internationally, especially after German automaker BMW built its first North American plant adjacent to the bustling Greenville-Spartanburg Airport.

Economic and industrial development from the 1960s pushed the area into an era of unprecedented growth and old-timers who looked backward often clashed with those who forged progressively ahead to give Greenville its place in the New South.

In 1970, Greenville schools integrated with "grace and style" and presently, with more than 60,000 students, it is the 66th largest school district in the nation and the largest in South Carolina.

Textile mills in the 1970s were hurt by foreign imports, and mills cut production. Some closed, and what had survived for decades as the "textile crescent" died.

But Greenville started attracting international investment, including the U.S. headquarters for Michelin, Bowater, Hitachi, and BMW.

Greenville's cultural development was rooted in the 1930s as wealthy families who traveled to Atlanta and New York returned home and encouraged the start of the Greenville Symphony Orchestra, the Greenville Art Museum, and the Greenville Little Theatre.

In the 1970s, cultural advantages expanded with the opening of the Greenville County Museum of Art and the addition of several community theaters. The most recent addition to the arts community in Greenville was the opening of the Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities in 1999.

Malls and developing suburbs hurt Main Street as a retail center of large department stores, and in the 1980s and 1990s the city worked with private partnerships to revitalize downtown and start the restoration of the historic West End district.

A census estimate in 1999 showed Greenville County population had grown to 379,819. About one-third of the population is African-American, and figures show the number of Hispanic and Asian residents growing rapidly.

The census lists the Hispanic population at 5,863 but leaders in the Hispanic community estimate there are between 25,000 and 30,000 Hispanics in the county. The Asian population is estimated at about 3,400.

Today, the greater Greenville area includes international companies from more than 25 countries, and from 1990 to 2000, 42 new foreign firms located in the region. In December 2000, there were 96 foreign firms in the county and 254 across the upstate.

With a population of 88,498 in 1920, estimated for 1925 at 99,859, of which approximately half is engaged in or dependent upon manufacturing, Greenville County presents a condition of balance between agriculture and industry not frequently found in the South. Farming has had a notable and profitable stimulation in ready markets provided by the urban and industrial population aggregating about two-thirds of the county's total.

Cotton spinning and weaving is the county's primary industry. The investment in textile plants alone today is $27,102,834; there are 25 mills in the county with a total of 771,364 spindles, 15 per cent of the state's total. The annual product is valued at $40,000,000, the payroll is $7,000,000 and 10,000 operatives are employed. More than 4,500 patterns of cloth are made, from heavy cluck to fancy silks, finest cottons, and rayon products. Besides the cotton mills are 49 other industrial plants, with an annual product valued at $9,000,000. The total industrial and railroad payroll is over $10,000,000 annually, and the industrial resources include, besides the cotton mills, bleaching and finishing plants, worsted factory, dyeing and processing plant, sewer pipe works, belting plant, and plants making equipment for looms and other textile appliances.

Greenville was part of the area ceded by the Cherokee Indians, and was created by legislative Acts of 1786 and 1798. Its name is attributed by some to Isaac Green, an early settler, by others to Major General Nathanael Greene. It has an area of 761 square miles and a population almost entirely native-born. Of the 88,498 population in 1920, 64,545 were native-born whites and 23,461 negroes.

Stretching from the Blue Ridge mountains at the North Carolina border to the piedmont plains eastward, the county has a wide range of elevation. The mountainous area on the west is a beautiful and attractive pleasure resort, the two highest peaks being Caesar's Head, 3,218 feet, and Hogback Mountain of a few feet greater altitude. Five miles northeast of the city of Greenville is Paris Mountain, an isolated group of peaks, rising to 2,054 feet above sealevel.

The soil, mostly of the Cecil series, is adapted to a wide variety of crops. Farming is conducted successfully in all parts of the county, particularly in the fertile region of the eastern half. Cotton is the principal crop, the normal production being upward of 40,000 bales. Dairying, poultry raising, and trucking are developing on a profitable scale; orcharding, begun a few years ago, has reached extensive proportions, 82 cars of peaches having been shipped to outside markets in 1926. Forests, including many varieties of hardwood, abound in the upper half. The average annual rainfall is 53 inches; average growing season 215 days.

Greenville is the county seat. Other incorporated towns include Fountain Inn, 1,100; Simpsonville, 566, and Greer, 2,292, all industrial and commercial centers.

The county has 191 schools, including 15 accredited high schools; the enrollment in 1926 was 30,269; the investment in buildings and grounds is estimated at $2,909,750, about 18 times the school investment in 1909.

The Southern Railway's main line, Washington to Atlanta, and its Columbia & Greenville division form a junction at Greenville. The Piedmont & Northern Railway, electric, connects Spartanburg, Greenville, Anderson, and Greenwood, and the Charleston & Western Carolina, subsidiary of the Atlantic Coast Line, has a terminus at Greenville. The Greenville & Northern Railroad has a line toward the mountains, but is not operating regular schedules.

State and local highways serve all parts of the county. There are 500 miles of well-maintained topsoil roads, 50 miles of permanently-paved roads, exclusive of city paving, and four important national motor routes (National highway, Dixie highway, Bankhead highway and Piedmont Air Line) pass through Greenville. The county leads the state in cumber of automobiles, having approximately 13,000 registered in 1926.

Immediately above, published in "South Carolina: A Handbook," prepared by The Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industries and Clemson College, Columbia, South Carolina, 1927. In the Public Domain. [with minor edits]


© 2021 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved