The Greer Downtown Historic District is significant for its high concentration of intact examples of early twentieth-century commercial architecture. The commercial buildings in the district signify Greer’s expansion from an agricultural marketplace to include an industrial and manufacturing economy.
Greer was first established as Greers Station in 1873 as a flag station along the Atlanta Charlotte Air Line Railroad. The town was officially incorporated as Greers in 1876, but later became known simply as Greer. From the late 1870s through the 1890s, downtown Greer prospered in the cotton trade and the streets were lined with a variety of businesses such as general stores, physicians, and other essential services. These and many early businesses in Greer were grouped in wood frame buildings around the Public Square and along Trade Street, the main business avenue leading from the rail depot. By about 1901, two new railroads, Southern Railways and Piedmont and Northern, constructed competing rail lines through Greer. Commercial activity eventually focused between the two tracks as businesses sought to have easy access to transportation for their products.
Thomas Keating, an upcountry contractor and builder who designed many buildings in the region between 1903 and 1915, designed a number of the significant buildings in downtown Greer. The R.L. Merchant Building (200 Trade Street), the Reese Building (217 Trade Street), and the Belk-Kirkpatrick Building (104-106 Trade Street) were all designed by Keating, as well as several residences (including his own as 213 North Main) in Greer.
In the early twentieth century, the economic character of Greer changes. The textile industry, which traced its humble beginnings back to the early nineteenth century, began to expand rapidly, especially in the Carolinas and Greenville County. Within one hundred miles of the county seat of Greenville, there were over 400 mills by 1930. In Greenville County alone there were 35 mills. Several mills began operation just outside of Greer between about 1896 and 1908, including Apalache Mill, Victor Cotton Mill, Franklin Mill, and Greer Mill, but their presence nearby had a significant effect on the economy and appearance of downtown Greer.
With the expansion of the textile mills, downtown Greer also expanded in the form of new industry and commerce focused on supporting textiles. Warehouses, lumber and fuel production, and the manufacture of cotton byproducts (such as cottonseed oil and fertilizer) downtown were the outgrowth of the textile mills. These new businesses and industries changed the face of downtown Greer as they replaced older wood frame buildings with brick commercial structures, some as tall as two or three stories. Greer’s downtown commercial architecture reflects the prosperity of the town’s economy between 1900 and 1930 when textiles and related industries flourished.
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