We know that many of our newcomers to the community may not be aware of the unique history of the North Main Neighborhood. We have attached below two articles by North Main Historian Dr. Judith Bainbridge. Judy is a retired professor emerita of English at Furman and a resident of North Main. Her twice-monthly articles about Greenville and the Upstate were published for 22 years by the Greenville News.
North Main Neighborhood
By Judith Bainbridge
Geography creates history. Even local history.
Consider the North Main Neighborhood. Beyond the baby Bi-Lo on Park Avenue and McPherson Park, past the emerging commercial development at Stone Avenue (newly christened the “North End”), north of the Earle Street Historic District, North Main Street dips and rises twice before intersecting with Rutherford Road.
Today it’s the spine, the centerfold, of the community. But it wasn’t originally. It couldn’t have been. Beyond Croft Street, where it ended until the 1920s, two ravines, one 28 feet deep just beyond Croft Street, and a 40-footer further north—were nearly impassable. Its edges, the 18th century road to Rutherfordton in North Carolina along the ridge to the west and the 1850s stagecoach route to the spa at Chick Springs on the east, are much older.
It took persuasive landowners, convict labor, and the grudging allocation of funds by City Council to extend Main Street all the way to the newly designated National Highway—old Rutherford Road—between 1923 and 1927.
But the neighborhood had begun developing more than 15 years earlier, when the beltline trolley was extended down Stone Avenue to just beyond the city limits at Rutherford Road to a turn-around called Woodside Circle. In 1911, attorney Hugh Buist, who had long cultivated adjacent vineyards along the east side of Rutherford Road, decided to sell his farm and old home, long thought to be the “The Poplars,” Elias Earle’s 18th century house.
On May 17, 1911, the Greenville News announced that a “large syndicate” headed by W. T. Hardison had paid $20,000 for about 36 of Buist’s acres and would develop it as “Buist Circle,” a “modern residential suburb” with electric power and water piped from Paris Mountain. The “beautiful piece of property,” today the north side of Buist Avenue and the south side of West Mountain View, would be “traversed by a beautiful 80-foot wide avenue.” Wilton Street would lead directly to it.
That’s not exactly what happened: they settled for two 40-foot wide streets, and Wilton had to make an awkward dogleg to the east to reach the property. (Townes Street ended just below Randall, although the gulch between it and the new development was neither as deep nor as wide as the one confronting Main Street.)
In the same year, Traxler Realty Company announced the “Mountain View Development” on the north side of the street. With large lots planned for wealthy home owners, it immediately attracted George Barr, whose Stradley-Barr Department Store was a downtown landmark. By 1913, he had constructed a handsome home with massive columns in the middle of West Mountainview Avenue.
(And “future” that development certainly was. By 1918 Buist Street had only one house—the “Poplars,” moved from Rutherford Road–and there were only three on Mountain View.)
Real estate developer Christopher C. Hindman had also seen the potential in the heavily wooded land. In 1914, after he had moved to Greenville from Williamston, he purchased hundreds of hillside acres between the two gorges. By 1917, he had laid out a dirt road at the crest of the hill from the Wilton extension to Chick Springs Road.
The first sale on the new Hillcrest Drive (he called the sub-division Highland Terrace) came in 1919, after he had already reserved several choice lots for himself and for future homes for his five children. It too was planned as an upscale suburb since houses built there had to cost at least $9,000.
But the gullies formed by branches of Richland Creek still stood in the way. In October 1922 local landowners asked the Chamber of Commerce to appoint a committee to study the financing and arrangements necessary to extend North Main Street to the National Highway. The Chamber named James A. McPherson, the chairman of the City’s Parks Commission, W. D. Workman, and W. T. Hardison to draw up a plan.
They acted fast. A month later, the Chamber’s magazine, the “Civic and Commercial Journal,” reported that McPherson’s committee had successfully negotiated easement agreements with property owners along the route and that City Council might agree to filling in the ravine if it wasn’t too expensive. Landowners would pay half the cost and the city the remainder.
By January 1923, the Chamber magazine commented about rumors circulating in Greenville concerning “the large development” planned for the “territory edging and adjacent to North Main Street.” The “broken nature of the country beyond Earle Street and lying toward Paris Mountain” offered “wonderful opportunities for the skill and ingenuity of the landscape gardener.”
A few months later, it reported that the city had found a way to cut labor costs: it would employ chain gangs of convicts to fill in the gorge and eventually open the land to tax-paying property. (The land beyond Croft Street wasn’t within the city limits until 1947.)
Road builders got to work. In spite of the difficulties, by mid-1924, Main Street had reached the second ravine. Townes Street forded the creek to connect with the Wilton dogleg; Buist, West Mountain View, and Ashley Avenue, extended from Woodside Circle, reached Main Street. Although it took three more years to get all the way to the National Highway, the road that finally reached it, thanks probably to the Chamber of Commerce and J. A. McPherson, was unlike any in Greenville.
A 70-foot wide boulevard with a 12-foot median, it was the widest residential street in Greenville and the first one designed to have plantings. The idea came from Charlotte. Chamber members had made an “Acquaintance Trip” there in 1923, where they admired Myers Park, whose tree-shaded boulevards wound fine elegant homes. They wanted something comparable in Greenville. And committee chair James McPherson, a fervent exponent of gardens and greenery, would certainly have agreed. (It took ten years, though, before its first dogwoods were planted.)
The new road brought new homes, new streets, and new sub-divisions. By 1927, Dr. W. T. Simpson, the owner of the Belk- Simpson department store, had built a distinctive Spanish revival style mansion across the street from Hindman’s more sedate but equally elegant home on the corner of North Main and West Hillcrest. Avondale Farms had been platted as “Northgate Terrace,” and its winding roads laid out. Although street names have changed (Montclair was originally Fairview; Kenwood was Tremont; Hindman was Finlay), by 1931 the outlines of the community were in place.
The Great Depression slowed development, but after the Second World War, it exploded. The Rotary Park at Ashley Avenue and the small commercial strip opposite it were built in the early 1950s, as was Broad Margin, the National Register-listed Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home on West Avondale.
Shaded by water oaks, mixing homes of various styles, sizes, ages, and expense, North Main Street and its surrounding community is today one of Greenville’s most varied and beautiful neighborhoods.
By Judith Bainbridge
Stone Avenue is an anomaly. It is the only two-way street that links the east and west sides of the city. It is the only downtown thoroughfare developed by a single family. And it is our only commercial corridor that so obviously shows its residential roots.
In contrast to ancient Buncombe, Pendleton, and Augusta Roads—Indian paths turned modern highways—or the centuries-old downtown streets laid out by Lemuel Alston in 1797, Stone Avenue is middle aged. It was conceived by Eugene E. Stone and laid out by the city in 1881.
Yet its story is as old as Greenville.
Soon after Elias Earle and his wife, Frances Wilton Robinson Earle, came to Greenville in 1787, they built a home on Rutherford Road (“The Poplars”) and purchased thousands of surrounding acres, but in 1813 they moved on to Anderson District.
They sold their Greenville holdings, including about 1,000 acres of land, to former Governor Henry Middleton of Charleston. He built a summer home, “Whitehall,” about a mile from the Poplars. Appointed minister to Russia in 1820, Middleton immediately sold the house and land to George Washington Earle, Elias Earle’s nephew. The following year, .G. W. Earle died suddenly, leaving a vast estate to be divided among his seven children.
In 1840, Dr. Charles Stone of Charleston married Earle’s youngest daughter, Eugenia, who inherited the mansion and 400 nearby acres. The Civil War left the family (minus Dr. Stone, who had departed for places unknown) land rich but cash poor. Their holdings got larger (and prospects a bit cheerier) when Eugene Earle Stone, their only surviving son, married Floride Lydia Croft, the daughter of a substantial adjacent landowner, about 1870.
They all—Eugenia, an unmarried daughter, Eugene, Lydia and eventually their eleven children—lived at Whitehall. E. E. Stone farmed the land, but in 1881, he conveyed to the city of Greenville a 75-foot wide strip of land from Rutherford Road to Chick Springs Road along a line about 200 feet north of the southern boundary of his holdings. (He also gave the city a 65-foot strip to extend North Main Street to the Garraux property.) The road initially extended only to North Main Street.
This new West Stone Avenue edged an existing housing community east of Rutherford Road, where about a dozen homes owned by black families had clustered since 1868. Bucknertown, as it was called, had been built up by freedmen, many of them artisans, led by John Buckner, a painter at the Gower and Cox Coach Factory.
While Greenville’s population had nearly tripled between 1870 and 1880 (from about 2,000 to just over 6,000), there was no particular need for housing so far distant from the city’s business center. It wasn’t until 1889 that J. M. Perry, owner of Perry’s Business College on Main Street and father of “Miss Jim” Perry, who 30 years later would be the first woman to pass the South Carolina Bar, built the first home on the street. By 1891, there were ten houses, most near Bucknertown.
In 1890, Stone platted future roads: he named and laid out Wilton, Robinson, Croft, and Earle Streets.
During the Spanish-American War, the Whitehall estate became a part of Camp Wetherill, serving a brigade of about 5,000 men who began arriving in November 1898.
Several months later, during the coldest winter in Greenville history, an ambulance pulled by four mules got stalled in the deep mud at Stone Avenue and Rutherford Road. (All Greenville streets were muddy; Stone’s mud, because of a bubbling little spring near the corner, was infamous.) The ambulance was left overnight, and by the next day it had frozen so deeply that it couldn’t be moved for six weeks.
About a year after the troops departed in March 1899, Eugenia Stone died, leaving her huge property to her daughter-in-law, Lydia. With attorney William E. Sirrine, she chartered the Stone Land Company in 1903 and transferred 250 of those acres to the company, which platted the land and divided it among her children. The Land Company and those children, who also owned land individually, developed Stone Avenue.
In the first decade of the new century, Stone and its intersecting streets (first Townes and Rowley, then Wilton, Vannoy, and Elizabeth; finally Bennett and Robinson) became especially desirable for what would now be called “starter homes.” Many, like that of enterprising young businessmen B. H. Peace, a journeyman printer, were built in the fashionable new bungalow style. In 1903, realtor Alester Furman hired a Charleston auctioneer, and parading with a local brass band behind him, in one afternoon sold lots worth $15,000 on East Stone. (Most cost between $300 and $500.)
Those lots continued to sell: in 1900, there were 14 homes on West Stone; none on East. By 1910, 46 homes had been erected ; a decade later, there were 76 (29 on East Stone.)
By the mid 1920s, after it had been paved but long before it was linked to Laurens Road, Stone Avenue had become an important thoroughfare, served by the first bus route in the city, two small grocery stores, Stone Avenue School, and, at the Rutherford Road corner, Triune Methodist Church. At the start of World War II, there are more than a hundred homes on the street.
The “Super Highway,” Wade Hampton Boulevard, changed everything. It was completed to Chick Springs Road in 1947, and Stone Avenue merged into Laurens Road. Sears & Roebuck, seeing a first-rate commercial location, opened on East Stone in 1951. Traffic increased. Gas stations (8 of them) moved in. Small commercial buildings and apartment houses followed. Gradually, in the following decades, homes were converted to businesses.
Yet it took time for its residential character to change. In 2000, only 8 homes—but many houses– remained on the mile-long street. Today Stone Avenue is a convenient commercial corridor that borders some of Greenville’s most desirable in-town neighborhoods. Yet because it retains a memory of its not so distant past, its future needs the protection and thoughtful concern of city government, property owners, and neighborhood associations.