For centuries, South Carolina's Upcountry was the domain of the Cherokee Indians, who used these lands as hunting grounds. Richard Pearis, Greenville's first settler, arrived in 1770 and eventually built a plantation above the Reedy River. Greenville County was created in 1786, with the village of Greenville Courthouse centered on a log courthouse built in 1795 near the Reedy River. Greenville itself owes its name to Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene, who commanded the Southern forces.
In 1836 businessman Vardry McBee constructed gristmills on the Reedy River and established cotton manufacturing, a brickyard and other businesses. He also donated land for the city's first schools and churches. Greenville's economy initially centered on agriculture and small manufacturing. In the 1850s, the emergence of Greenville as a center of higher education (Furman University began holding classes downtown in 1852) and the completion of the railroad line from Columbia transformed the town. Having escaped most of the fighting during the Civil War, Greenville's first textile mill was built in 1876, and by 1910 Greenville had become a cotton town.
In the 1920s, Alester Furman and other businessmen paved streets, upgraded parks, and established the first hospital and library. The Great Depression of 1929 brought Greenville's economy to a standstill, and local mills experienced massive layoffs. During World War II, a nearby air base (now the South Carolina Technology & Aviation Center, or SCTAC) brought thousands of airmen to the area, including the base's builder, Charles Daniel. In the 1950s and 60s, Daniel, along with Governor Fritz Hollings and state Economic Development Coordinator Francis Hipp helped lure northern companies to the Upcountry.
An International Center
When French tire manufacturer Michelin chose Greenville as its North American headquarters in 1986, a rush of foreign investment began. German automaker BMW's move here was followed by some 30 suppliers in the early 1990s. Today, 80 internationally owned companies operate in Greenville County alone. Downtown, new multi-use complexes are rising on the skyline, while on Greenville's thriving Eastside, technology is bringing the Upcountry to the forefront of the automotive industry. Clemson University's cutting-edge International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) is well on its way to becoming the world's "premier automotive and motorsports research and educational facility."