In the Beginning…
As much as we love to talk about present day Greenville, our cool little city has quite a history. For centuries, this part of South Carolina served as hunting grounds for the Cherokee Indians. It wasn’t until 1770 that the first settler of Western origin established a presence here. Richard Pearis (the namesake for nearby Paris Mountain) established a plantation above the Reedy River, and by 1786, Greenville County was established. A decade later, the Village of Greenville was centered around a log courthouse built in 1795. As for our name, well, while you could certainly understand it based on the stunning natural surroundings, it actually came from Nathaniel Greene, commander of the Southern forces in the Revolutionary War.
When businessman Vardry McBee constructed gristmills on the Reedy River and established cotton manufacturing, a brickyard and more in the 1830s, Greenville came to life. McBee also donated land for the city's first schools and churches, starting rich traditions of education and faith that endure to this day. Greenville's economy was initially centered on agriculture and small manufacturing, but in the 1850s, Greenville emerged as a center of higher education with Furman University making its debut downtown in 1852. The completion of the railroad line from Columbia, SC transformed the town. Having escaped most of the destruction during the Civil War, Greenville's first textile mill was built in 1876. It wouldn’t be the last. By 1910, Greenville had become a cotton town.
Weaving a New Fabric
In the early 1920s, Alester Furman and other businessmen worked to pave streets, upgrade parks and establish the first hospital and library. Things were humming right along until the Great Depression brought Greenville's economy to a standstill in 1929, and local mills experienced massive layoffs. During World War II, Donaldson Air Force Base (now the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center) brought thousands of airmen to the area, including the base's builder, Charles Daniel. In the 1950s and 1960s, Daniel, along with Governor Fritz Hollings and State Economic Development Coordinator Francis Hipp, helped lure Northern companies to the Upcountry with promises of a strong, reliable workforce. That triggered an economic revival that continues to this day.
The World Comes To Greenville
When French tire manufacturer Michelin chose Greenville as its North American headquarters in 1986, and German automaker BMW arrived here in the 1990s (bringing in its wake more than 30 suppliers), the global race to Greenville was on. Today, Greenville boasts more than 250 international firms from 26 different countries and has the most foreign investment per capita in the U.S. Downtown, new hotels, condominiums and multi-use complexes are redefining the skyline, while Greenville's thriving Eastside is leading the Upcountry to the forefront of automotive technology and innovation. Clemson University's cutting-edge International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) is already among the world's premier automotive and motorsports research and educational facilities. Greenville County is the most populated county in the State of South Carolina and is now home to 650+ manufacturers, 40 Fortune 500 companies, and 150 headquarters…and we’re just getting started!