Some will remember Greenville 26 years ago in 1996 when Mayor Knox White was in his first full year in office. A lot has happened since then.
Now try to imagine Greenville 26 years after its beginnings as a village of 1797!
The following excerpt from the Charleston Daily Courier of August 6, 1823 will give you a glimpse of our village in its formative years.
“This place is located at about 54 deg.45m. north latitude, and is the principal village of the district of Greenville. It is bathed to the south by the Reedy River, one of the tributaries of the Saluda. This little river, which abounds in fine situations for mill seats, but which is quite impracticable, passes over a bed of solid granite; immediately adjoining the village, it rushes over an immense ridge of solid rock, and falls about 35 feet. A little below the falls a protruding rock extends so far into the river that you can take a position such that you have a full view of the river for some distance before it reaches the precipice, as well than the waterfall itself. Immediately opposite stands a very fine mill, and below you is a small island around which the stream is also divided, passing slowly on either side, and as soon as a union is made there is a another descent of precipitation of about 12 or 14 feet, when, by its meanders, the river loses itself in the dark shade of the forest trees which shade it.
The mill mentioned above is At Vardry McBee first flour mill on the shores of Reedy Falls. It’s also worth noting that there used to be a small island located between the upper and lower falls.
The article continues: “Just below the mill, on the opposite side, you can see a small stream supporting the swell of the passing current. The main part of the village, which consists of about thirty residential houses, is located on the gentle slope of the north bank of the Reedy River. There are four very fine public houses in the village, and one on a fine hill to the west, the former residence of Colonel Lemuel Alston. Colonel Toney’s Pub is equal to all of the United States in both construction and rate. From many situations, you have a full view of Paris Mountain, Table Rock, as well as a considerable range of the southern mountains of the Blue Ridge. To the north of the village, there are two very beautiful buildings, for a male and female academy; the latter is under the direction of the Reverend Mr. Johnston, so well known for his piety and learning. Mr. Hodges is President of the Male Academy and is spoken of in very favorable terms. These buildings are brick, as are the public houses of Colonel Toney and Major Cleveland. Mr. M’Leod, a respectable planter of Augusta, Mr. Williford, of Savannah, and Mr. Croft, formerly of Charleston, and last of Columbia, have very charming residences adjoining the village.
While Colonel Toney’s “public house” (aka the Mansion House hotel) is well known, lesser known among the early village hotels is Jeremiah Cleveland’s located on the corner of West McBee and South Main. Moreover, since there is no documented imagery of the early residences of Mr. M’Leod, Mr. Williford or Mr. Croft, it is tempting to think how magnificent they must have been.
The Charleston Daily Courier writer continues, “Gen. Blassingame lies about three miles from the village; perhaps no man has ever been a better model of hospitality in South Carolina than this gentleman. You will be surprised to learn that there is no place of worship in Greenville. The courthouse is used for this purpose, and since my residence here I have heard Mr. Johnston twice – his eloquence is good and his doctrine orthodox; and if I were to judge by the dress of the audience, I would suppose that the people of Greenville were as devout and as concerned with evangelical instruction as any other community. The reason why there is no place of worship, is mainly attributable to the different sects that reign there. It is a pity that we have so many religions of men, when there is only one of God. … I visited the seat of the late Governor Alston, about two miles from Greenville – the house is abandoned and goes completely to ruin; the only tenants are bats and owls. How melancholy were the reflections before this picture of fallen grandeur! Here once, it seemed to me, was the residence of all that was perfect in taste, learning, eloquence, eloquence and science of government! Here once resided the finest model of feminine excellence; and these are the reasons on which the darling of the mother, and the pride of the father, so lightly frolicked! …”
A final insight provided by this article is a rare reference to Governor Joseph Alston’s Greenville summer residence, which was located on the road to Pendleton. The writer is clearly smitten with the Governor’s character as well as the beauty of his wife, Theodosia Burr Alston.
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”.