The area that became Greenville County was a wilderness in colonial times, the haunt of bison and elk and a hunting ground for the Cherokee. In the 1770s a somewhat shady Indian trader from Virginia, Richard Pearis, settled near the falls of the Reedy River intending to build his domain. His plantation and much other land came into the hands of Lemuel Alston in the 1790s, who laid out the "Village of Pleasantburg" and on whose land the courthouse for the Greenville District was built. Further development came under the leadership of Vardry McBee in the 1800s, who promoted the building of railroads and mills. Agriculture remained a major element of the local economy, but by the end of the 1800s Greenville was becoming a textile center.
As Greenville entered the 20th century, it was still a small town with not quite 12,000 residents, yet its citizens saw the need for a library. The proper backing for a public institution coalesced in 1921 under the leadership of Thomas F. Parker. The Library opened on May 20, 1921 with 500 volumes in a vacant storage room on East Coffee Street and soon expanded into the store next door. The Library was so well received that the city voted it tax support in 1923, and the following year it moved to larger quarters in the Jervey Jordan building, which had entrances on both Main and Brown streets.
The Depression years were dark times for the Library as with the rest of the nation. Precious little was added to the collection, and often the staff were not paid, yet its activities were many and varied. In 1937 the end of the Library's lease meant a move to temporary quarters in a garage building that was entirely unsatisfactory. Two years later the Library purchased the old Park School building, a fine brick structure on North Main Street. It was renovated and opened in 1940.
By the 1960s it became clear that new times required changes. The City and County Services were combined, the tax millage was raised to provide adequate support, and funds were solicited to build a new Library. The new building, located on the site of the Women's College, opened on May 25, 1970. The city's first specially built library facility and so freshly modern compared to the old building, it sported the recently donated Arthur McGill Globe to great advantage. For the next three decades this main library served as a hub for the Library system's aggressive modernization with many new programs, the expansion of branch libraries, and the computer automation of the collection.
As Greenville County stood at the gates of the new millennium, it needed a new main Library building not only to provide a larger space but a space adapted to the technology and culture of the Digital Age. The result was the Hughes Main Library, which opened October 7, 2002. In addition to its beautiful architecture and spacious areas bright with natural light, it is fully wired for digital technology, gives access to dozens of public computers, and includes a café and gift shop. It complements the revitalized downtown area both as a tool for education and entertainment and a place for the community to gather.
Greenville of the mid-1800s saw a thriving commercial district known as the West End springing up just across the Reedy River; the wealthy built their fashionable homes there. Beyond was mostly vacant land waiting for enterprising entrepreneurs to make their fortunes. When the new century dawned, the Westside became the center of Greenville's textile industry. In the next dozen years a whole series of cotton mills were built there – Brandon, Woodside, Monaghan, Judson and Dunean – that employed thousands of workers, many of whom were Appalachian farmers who came to find a more economically secure livelihood. The mill companies built and maintained mill villages which included houses, schools, churches and community centers workers. The mill sports teams were a major focus of community spirit. Famed baseball hero Shoeless Joe Jackson got his start at Brandon Mills.
Eventually, the textile era came to an end. The mills sold off their villages after World War II, and foreign competition forced many of them to close by the 1980s. The Westside neighborhoods declined. However, in the 1990s redevelopment programs began reversing the trend. Some of the old mill buildings have been converted into upscale apartments, and a fair number of artists have set up shop in the area.
In the heyday of the mills, the Greenville County Library Bookmobile visited the schools and mills of the Westside regularly. With the decline of the mills there arose a clear need for a branch. The West Branch was opened on July 5, 1975, in a storefront at the corner of Easley Bridge Rd. and West Washington Ave. The branch opened with little fanfare, and the circulation figures stayed low– no doubt because of the economic hardships and the low average education levels of the area. A new era dawned, however, with the opening of the new branch on Anderson Road on October 26, 2003. The community supported its furnishing with many individual gifts– well invested in a fine building and collection that are a great help and a source of pride to its citizens.
Once just a Cherokee Indian path above the Reedy River, the road to Augusta, Georgia, from Greenville was used by traders and drovers who wanted to transport their products on the Savannah River. When Greenville was just a village, it pretty much ended where Augusta Road began. In the 1850s, however, a train depot and the campus of Furman University attracted well-to-do Greenville citizens to the area, so stately mansions began to be built not far from town. The one military action of the Civil War in Greenville occurred on Augusta Road in 1865 when a cavalry group descended on the area to confiscate weapons.
Industry spurred new growth in the late 1800s with the establishment of Camperdown Mill (1876) and Mills Mill (1897), and new businesses and cotton farming began to flourish. In the twentieth century the road began to be paved, and a trolley ran from Mills Avenue to downtown Greenville. The area really took on a city look when the new Greenville High School was completed in 1938, and a decade later Lewis Plaza, the first true mall in the South, opened for business. During World War II Augusta Road linked the Greenville Army Air Base (later known as Donaldson Center) to the city. Today the 30,000 residents of the area enjoy a unique neighborhood, with thriving businesses and churches interspersed with residences along a comfortable tree-lined street.
Before there was an Augusta Road Branch Library, there was "So Big," a diminutive building constructed in 1932 and located on a vacant lot on Augusta Road. The librarian dispensed books from its 42 feet of shelving through a window to the eager patrons outside. After "So Big" the bookmobile served the area until 1975, when the growth of population in the area persuaded the Library Board to rent space next to the Pickwick Pharmacy. Opening on March 4, 1975, the branch was enormously busy. Many patrons came on foot, including neighborhood residents and their children, businessmen staying at extended-stay facilities, and Greenville Tech students. On August 13, 2004, the new Ramsey Family Branch Library replaced the rented space. The expanded and updated facilities attracted many new patrons, while the staff continues to provide much-needed service and popular programming for the Augusta Road community.
Somewhere northwest of Greenville-and people disagree as to its boundaries-is the section known as Berea. The first settlers came after the Revolutionary War when the rich soil in the area between the Saluda River and Paris Mountain began attracting farmers. The region's name reveals the piety of these early Scots Irish immigrants. A Baptist church chose that name in reference to the noble Bereans in the Bible (Acts 17) when it formed in 1843. By the late 1800s people were calling the whole area "Berea."
Beginning in the 1870s, children in Berea attended a one-room log cabin. Berea School, which eventually became Berea High School, opened its doors in 1885. It has become a focal point of community pride, yielding state Teacher of the Year Jim Mattos and Miss South Carolina Kimilee Bryant, who has gone on to fame as a singer on Broadway and in opera. Never home to a textile mill or other major industry, today much of Berea's farmland sports subdivisions and neighborhood businesses. It has stoutly resisted incorporation into the Greenville city limits and so has its own tradition of independence and local pride.
The Greenville County Library established the Berea branch on November 1, 1971, in a store front on Cedar Lane Road. Open on weekday afternoons, it was soon circulating more books than any other branch. Twice it expanded to include more rooms, but demand on the branches resources required still more space. Local resident Zed Jones came to the rescue by donating four acres on Highway 25 Bypass, and on April 26, 1998, a new building was opened. Of special interest at the branch are the Reading Train and a statue of a father reading to his child by Charlie Pate, a local artist.
Farmers first settled the southern part of Greenville County during the Revolutionary War establishing barely more than a few churches. When the state of South Carolina built a stage coach road from Charleston to Greenville in the early 1800s, an inn was established for travelers to spend the night about one day's journey from Columbia. This inn was noted by weary passengers for its copious and refreshing spring, hence the name Fountain Inn. A post office, a hat factory, and other businesses eventually came until in 1886 the town was incorporated. The 1890s brought a grist mill and a cotton mill to the area, and a mill village grew up across the railroad tracks.
Among the famous residents of Fountain Inn is Robert Quillen, a journalist whose nationally syndicated column featured the wisdom of a fictional "Aunt Het." Another was "Peg Leg" Bates, a world-famous performer who–despite his wooden leg– danced for the English royalty and appeared numerous times on the Ed Sullivan Show. Still another was Art Frahm who drew the merry colonial face of Quaker Oats fame as well as the Coppertone Sun Lotion girl.
When cotton farming and textiles declined in the late twentieth century, industry diversified in Fountain Inn, and much farmland was replaced by subdivisions for the burgeoning population. The community retained, however, something of its small-town atmosphere. It honors its history with monuments and still celebrates "Aunt Het Day." The Library has been a major focal point for fostering this community spirit.
In the early 1900s the ladies of the Village Improvement Society began bringing culture to Fountain Inn, notably by founding a library in a store on North Main Street. Unfortunately for culture, in 1920 the hotel next door burned and took the library with it. Culture could not be deterred, however, for the Greenville County Library established a branch at Fountain Inn in 1926. Open on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, it was located in storefronts for 40 years. Then, in 1965 the town bought property and the Beaunit Corporation donated a building for the library. The newest building–opened on May 19, 2002 and built with funds provided by Mr. Melvin Younts and an anonymous donor–stands on property where the owner of the hotel lived whose fire destroyed the original library.
The community of Greer arose out of Greer's Station, a stop on the railroad running north to Richmond, Virginia. It reached town status in 1876 when the people of Pleasant Grove (along with some of their buildings) arrived from a couple of miles away to be nearer to the railroad. It served as a trading post for the surrounding agricultural land where first cotton and later peaches were grown. The proximity of the cotton fields and the railroad brought in textiles which became the principal industry for decades. Today BMW and the industries associated with it have become the major employers of the people here.
Greer is perhaps the fastest growing city in South Carolina with over 20,000 residents. Expanding geographically as well, it is located in both Greenville and Spartanburg counties which presents its own set of challenges. Greer has a strong sense of identity and history as evidenced by the restored downtown area with over 40 buildings on the National Historic Register.
Founded in the fall of 1925, the Greer Library was the first Library branch in the county. In 1938, it also became the first to erect its own building, the Davenport Memorial Library on School Street. Its downstairs meeting room provided a place for local clubs to meet, including the USO during World War II. This room later became the branch children's room as the collections and activities grew. The branch Libraries were rebuilt in the 1990s and on September 10, 1995, it became the first new branch completed and moved to its present location.
Captain Nathaniel Austin, the first permanent white settler in Greenville County, built a log cabin in the Mauldin area; one of his descendants still owns a house built on the site in 1830. The community that grew up took the name Butler's Crossroads, after Willis Butler, who bought up land in the area. Churches, grist and cotton mills, and a post office soon appeared. In1910, that the state awarded the town a charter and changed its name to Mauldin in honor of a previous Lt. Governor of South Carolina W.L. (Pope) Mauldin.
With the boll weevil infestation of the early 1900s, cotton yields in the area began dropping, and when the depression set in, the town hit bottom. From 1932 to 1957 its charter was inactive. Today, its fortunes have revived along with the other towns in the Golden Strip, and industry and population growth have been enormous. Mauldin does not have a recognizable downtown area, like Fountain Inn and Simpsonville,. Many descendants of Mauldin's early settlers still live here. Some natives, like the actor Orlando Jones and the NBA star Kevin Garnett, have gone on to fame.
In the early years, books were brought to Mauldin by the Library extension service, first in the school and later with biweekly stops of the bookmobile. This changed in 1961, when the citizens persuaded the Library to stock books in two unused rooms of the town hall. A visit to this little collection from Arthur Magill, textile entrepreneur and noted collector of Wyeth paintings, resulted in the gift of a building, which opened in 1962. This location served for decades as a focal point of community life. The library moved to the new W. Jack Greer Library in August 29, 1999.
Before the American Revolutionary War, everything west of the present Spartanburg County line belonged to the Cherokees by treaty. However, two enterprising and less than scrupulous businessmen, Richard Pearis and Jacob Hite, obtained title to thousands of acres in Greenville County from the native occupants. They began building their own farms and selling land to other settlers. Pearis, the fortunate one, gave his name to Paris Mountain. Hite, who owned some 61,000 acres in the eastern part of the county, was savagely murdered along with his family when the Cherokees attacked in 1776 and as a result, is largely forgotten.
The early settlers of eastern Greenville established farms and mills, especially along the Tyger and Enoree Rivers. Some of this farmland still belongs to their descendants. When Dr. Burwell Chick built nearby Chick Springs Resort in 1840, they were able to sell their produce locally to Charleston residents who spent their summers in the upcountry. For those indisposed to farming, several textile mills came to provide employment, most notably Batesville and Pelham in the 1800s and Southern Bleachery in the twentieth century. Today the fields of crops have given way to housing subdivisions and department stores. The Eastside is a rapidly developing region of business activity and attractive homes, with no end in sight.
When the Vaughn's At East North Street shopping center opened in the fall of 1978, the library leased 5,000 square feet of space for a new branch. It immediately became the branch with the highest book circulation, placed as it was in a high traffic mall in a well-to-do and well-educated community. The steady rise in use demanded a new building, which was opened October 7, 1990. Named for Frederick W. Symmes, a founder of the Greenville County Library and chairman of the board for thirty years, it features a 100-seat meeting room and over 12,000 square feet of space.
The Old Stage Road ran from Laurens to Greenville, and where it crossed an old Cherokee trail that came to be known as the Georgia Road, a village grew up. In the 1830s an enterprising farmer from the Laurens District, Peter Simpson, set up a blacksmith shop there, and so the name Simpsonville arose. When the post office came a few years later, it was called Plain, but "Simpsonville" eventually won out as the name of the place. The 1880s brought a high school and several cotton gins to serve the nearby farmers. Soon after incorporation in 1901, the town persuaded entrepreneurs to build the Simpsonville Cotton Mill, which remained the largest employer for decades. What spurred Simpsonville's present growth was the arrival of the major water main and the widening of Highway 276 in the 1950s.
Simpsonville's population growth has been remarkable. It was South Carolina's fastest growing city from 1990 to 1992, and the fastest growing city under 25,000 in the nation in 1994. Much of this expansion is as a bedroom community for the metropolitan area, but Simpsonville also has its own major industries. It draws crowds from far and wide for Freedom Weekend Aloft at New Heritage Park, but there is still a downtown area with the old train station and the clock tower.
The Simpsonville branch of the Greenville County Library opened in 1926. Its beginning was quite humble, merely one shelf of books located in the furniture store at 104 South Main Street. The library truck came around every few weeks to provide a new selection of books. In 1940 the library moved into a building built by the WPA, which it shared with community groups who held meetings there. In 1968 the library was expanded to occupy the whole building, giving it 1800 sq. ft. of space. In the 1990s the need for a larger library roused the community to action. A former mayor and his wife donated land near downtown Simpsonville, and fundraising took such interesting forms as a Christmas tour of historic Simpsonville homes. The new building, known as the Hendricks Branch, opened on April 6, 1997.
The area between Greenville and Greer was just farmland, and farmland it would have remained had it not been for the mineral spring five miles east of Greenville near the Enoree River. Dr. Burwell Chick bought up the land and opened the Chick Springs Resort in 1840. It was soon teeming with summer visitors from the lowcountry and elsewhere, who did much to boost the local economy. When the Richmond and Atlanta Railway was built, local entrepreneur Alfred Taylor built the station on his property, and gradually the center of business for the area shifted to Taylor's Station.
In the twentieth century Taylors, as it was now known, received boosts from nearby Camp Sevier during World War I and the opening of Southern Bleachery in 1924. The widening of Wade Hampton Boulevard as the main thoroughfare between Greenville and Spartanburg also contributed to the burgeoning population. While some advocated incorporating Taylors in the 1960s, the move failed largely because the area residents felt already well served by the water and fire districts. Although only the springhouse of the original resort remains, Taylors has a well-preserved downtown area and many longtime residents who value its history and spirit.
The Taylors Branch of the Greenville County Library was founded on November 20, 1973. In the 1920s the Bookmobile had been begun stopping every other week in Taylors at the First Baptist Church, but eventually the growth of the community warranted its own branch. The location across from the fire station on Wade Hampton Boulevard served until January 25, 2005, when the spacious Burdette branch opened. The property on Main Street is especially noted for its beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The new building has four times as much space as the old storefront location.
During the Revolutionary War, when northern Greenville County was still Cherokee country, hardy settlers moved in to set up farms. In 1794 a wagon road leading from Knoxville and Asheville into Greenville was completed, which allowed drovers from Tennessee to bring their animals to market. They would stop near modern-day Travelers Rest, where inns provided a place to sleep and pens where they could keep their cattle. Churches, a post office (1808), a high school (1883), and the "Swamp Rabbit Railway" (1888) helped establish the town. Well-to-do Charlestonians would come to escape the unhealthy summer heat by staying at establishments like the Spring Park Inn. In the late 1800s some ill feelings in the area moved residents of the northern part to establish their own town, which they named "Athens," but after the turn of the century it faded and the original community was reunited.
The twentieth century brought several industries, most notably textile mills. The population of Travelers Rest has grown along with the rest of the county, but the town has remained a cohesive community with a sense of its history. Plans for the revitalization of the downtown area are under implementation and promise a rich future.
In the early 1900s Mrs. Thomas Coleman operated a small public library in her home near Travelers Rest. Beginning in 1927 the bookmobile began visiting the town each week. More was needed, so on November 21, 1961, a branch of the library opened in three upstairs rooms provided by the Savings and Loan on Main Street. The Greenville County Library supplied the books and a librarian, who was there three days per week. A decade later the library moved to more roomy quarters in a storefront down the street. Eventually, however, limited parking and a deteriorating structure made the need for a new building urgent. Funds flowed in from the community, including a large donation from the Sargent Foundation. The local garden clubs raised money to install a "Southern Reading Garden" complete with sculpture of a child reading a book by local artist Zan Wells. The new Sargent Branch, which opened on September 22, 1996, is the only branch in the northern part of the county and so serves patrons as far as the North Carolina border.