The East Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The East Park Historic District is a collection of 147 primarily residential properties in an area immediately north of, and adjacent to, the downtown central business district of Greenville, SC. McPherson Park, Greenville's oldest public park, originally known as "City Park," is in the southwest corner of the district and provides a buffer between the neighborhood and the downtown business district. The district includes 121 contributing buildings, 22 noncontributing buildings, 1 contributing site, and 3 contributing structures.
The East Park Historic District consists of five square blocks, bounded by and including properties on both sides of Bennett Street (from East Stone Avenue to East Park Avenue), Harcourt Drive, East Park Avenue and Rowley Street. Vannoy Street and Poinsett Avenue are interior streets, and the district includes two original alleys—Rowley Alley (once called Love Alley) and Vannoy Alley. The streets, marked by large oaks, are an average width for the early twentieth century and are set in a grid pattern except for Harcourt Drive, which is circular.
A significant mixture of early twentieth century Revivals and American Movements showcase the varied tastes of architects and homeowners during this period. This district features Tudor, Colonial, Neoclassical, Late Victorian, Prairie, American Foursquare, Craftsman/Bungalow, and catalogue homes among its styles, forms and types. A few buildings have vanished from the landscape, some have been altered and, a few adapted to alternate use. Most of the homes have survived the test of time and the essential character of the neighborhood has remained until the present.
Today, properties within the district function primarily as single family residences. Two early apartments at 105 East Park Avenue and 3 Vannoy Street still serve that purpose; three quadraplex apartments were built on Bennett Street in the 1920s and still serve that purpose as well; four of these apartments are contributing resources in the district. A condominium at 14 Poinsett Ave. was built in the 1970s and is a noncontributing resource.
The East Park Historic District's past as part of the early American suburban movement is readily evident. Modern building materials and selected conversion to commercial use have not detracted from the neighborhood's integrity. Preservation of the appearance in the neighborhood has been maintained. Compatible adaptive uses, rather than detracting from the residential character of the neighborhood, accentuate the district's role as a vibrant, growing residential community. Change has, and continues to occur, but it is change that respects and maintains continuity with the past.
The East Park Historic District is historically significant as an early twentieth century planned suburban community, offering a park-centered lifestyle a few short blocks from downtown Greenville. The houses, institutions and park built in the East Park neighborhood between 1908 and 1950 are an excellent showcase of how middle and upper classes responded to changes in architectural styles, transportation, social and political issues, increasing population, economic ups and downs, and commercial encroachment during the first half of the twentieth century.
The East Park Historic District is eligible for listing in the National Register under Criterion A as a excellent reflection of the early suburban residential development of Greenville, and under Criterion C as an excellent example of the trends in residential architecture for the first half of the twentieth century. The neighborhood's East Park Historic District's past as part of the early American suburban movement is readily evident. The integrity of the original neighborhood and its essential residential character continue to be preserved and maintained.
The Suburban Vision and Initial Layout, 1884 — 1910
The decades following the Reconstruction era would emerge as one of the most prosperous periods in Greenville's history. Directly related to the expansion of textile mills and the resulting downtown business, the population of Greenville grew from 2,757 in 1870 to 11,860 citizens in 1900, and a population in excess of 30,000 by 1908. That population boom, along with the arrival of three railroads before the end of the century, triggered an explosion in the number of merchants and created a building boom in the city. The wealth surrounding the production of war materials for World War I further encouraged this dramatic growth.
Beginning roughly in 1908, the East Park neighborhood flourished in response to this burgeoning growth. A planned neighborhood, East Park developed in three distinct stages, by three distinct developers. With the village of Greenville growing and expanding, Caroline Cleveland Choice (1811-1905), married to the prominent attorney and political activist, William Choice, set the tone for the future "park-like" neighborhood. Caroline Choice, the daughter of Jeremiah Cleveland (1774-1845), merchant, banker and one of Greenville's early settlers and large landowners, donated land in 1884 for a City Park in an area that was soon to become the East Park Avenue neighborhood.
In the same year, William Choice Cleveland, great-grandson of Jeremiah Cleveland and prominent landowner in his own right, deeded Carrier Street (later to become East Park Avenue) to the city of Greenville. The city arranged with him to extend the street to the "Colored Cemetery" (now Richland Cemetery). Cleveland became one of three developers of the East Park Avenue area and, as a civic-minded citizen, served as alderman, state representative, and two terms as mayor of Greenville.
In 1888 Greenville City Council accepted another street deeded by Cleveland and Eugene Stone, named Rowley Street in honor of the prominent physician, Dr. Elbert Franklin Sevier Rowley. Born in Greenville in 1844, Rowley was educated at Greenville Male Academy and Furman University. He distinguished himself during the Civil War, serving in many major battles including Gettysburg. After graduating from Philadelphia University of Medicine, he returned to practice in Greenville, serving two terms as Mayor between 1885 and 1891.
By 1890, Eugene Stone had surveyed and platted 38 lots in an area along Stone Avenue, some of which were along Rowley Street. In 1904 the Greenville Daily News reported that "the demand for rental houses has been far in excess of supply. The natural growth of the city and the addition of new industries in the vicinity creates a constant and growing demand for houses. Families coming here are put to no end of trouble in finding rentable houses."
In April 1908 the Greenville Daily News advertised "a six room cottage on Rowley Street, featuring large lot, stables and garden." In 1909, Stone Land Company further subdivided the area to include lots on Vannoy and Bennett. In 1910, William C. Cleveland, operating as "Cleveland and Williams," hired Dalton and Neves to survey and plat 52 lots on land Cleveland inherited in 1893 from the estate of his great grandfather, Jeremiah Cleveland. Regardless of the precise details of ownership, it is clear that the Cleveland family long owned a good portion of the land that is now the East Park Historic District, and that Jeremiah Cleveland became a landowner in the area as early as 1818. The land subdivided by Cleveland in 1910 lay south of that of Stone Land Company and along what the City Map in 1908 designated as Carrier Street. Cleveland's development picked up on Vannoy, Rowley and Bennett where Stone Land Company's property ended. Cleveland added another interior street, Poinsett Avenue, and changed the name of Carrier Street to East Park Avenue, where he built his own mansion.
East Park Neighborhood — 1910-1920
With access to Main Street a few short blocks away, convenience, generous streets, and large lots attracted many professionals, including doctors, ministers, architects, educators, engineers, business owners and entrepreneurs to the relaxed wooded escape from the urban center. A real estate ad in 1913 offered a "beautiful new home with nice big lot in the best section of the city."
By 1910, ten homes were on Rowley, mostly rentals, built by speculators like engineer William Sirrine. By 1915, the complexion was changing, with seventeen homes on Rowley Street, all owned by their residents. The 1913 Sanborn Insurance Maps for the city reflected W. C. Cleveland's "new" East Park Avenue, where he then lived on his large estate. Sanborn Maps in 1919 show all the streets in the area by name except Harcourt Drive, which would not be laid out until 1921. Residential construction of significant homes, including Cleveland's own, soon brought paving of streets, curbstones and paved sidewalks.
By 1912, homes of three prominent Greenvillians—including two leading architects of the day, Joseph and Frank Cunningham—were sited on the north side of Park between Vannoy and Bennett. Cleveland had two neighbors on the south side of the street. Real estate promotions during this period bragged of beautiful high lots situated to gain the best of breezes and views of the "City Park" and the city itself.
The East Park neighborhood had established a significant residential presence by 1915. Professionals and businessman were rapidly moving into the neighborhood. Along with Cleveland and the Cunninghams, the Greenville City Directory of 1915 shows Z. T. Cody, editor of The Baptist Courier, and J. L. Mann, superintendent of Greenville County schools, living on Park Avenue.
These men hired architects to design homes to fit their lifestyles. Among these homes, concentrated along East Park Avenue, Bennett Street and Poinsett Avenue, Tudor Revival, Neoclassical and late Victorian styles are most notable. Most are two-story residences and exhibit decorative features such as cross gable roofs, knee braces, gable dormers, grouped lattice casement windows, prominent chimneys and gracious front porches. American Foursquare, Craftsman Bungalows, Prairie, and catalogue houses complete the varied styles in the neighborhood. Many of these are one or one-and-one-half story frame houses with hipped or gable roofs, exposed rafter tails and porches. With most of the homes equipped with garages, sometimes called "auto barns" in the early period, East Park may accurately be identified as Greenville's "first automotive suburb."
Of the architects practicing in the early to mid twentieth century, William Riddle "Willie" Ward, Jr. ranks as one of the most popular and productive. Three houses designed by Ward have been previously listed in the National Register of Historic Places: The Hugh Aiken House in Greenville; the R. Perry Turner House, in Greer; and the Robert G. Turner House, in Greer. A native of Alabama, Ward studied architecture at Auburn University and at the renowned Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He worked in New York where he met Haskell H. Martin. Martin persuaded Ward to join him in Greenville, where they were associated from 1915 to 1925.
From 1925 until his retirement in 1957, Ward maintained an independent practice in Greenville. Specializing in residential design, Ward designed more than a hundred houses throughout South Carolina, as well as a number of significant public buildings. Ward was known for his formal Colonial Revival and Georgian designs but worked in a number of styles. He was recognized as a meticulous craftsman with strict attention to detail. One of his first commissions was 205 East Park Avenue, an English Revival design encompassing Tudor and Arts and Crafts influences. Designed in 1916 for William Ellsworth Phelps, owner of Piedmont Shoe Company in downtown Greenville, the integrity of the home has been carefully preserved. Ward designed at least three documented homes in the East Park neighborhood between 1916 and 1940.
Park and Landscape
East Park is significant in landscape architecture as an example of an early twentieth century suburb. Retaining walls accentuated the hilly topography, trees provided shade and grassy lawns created a park-like setting. Continuing the Cleveland family's vision of a park community, Kelsey and Guild, noted landscape architects from Boston, Massachusetts, were hired by the Municipal League in 1907 to study plans for beautifying the city, including the city park. In May of 1911 the Park and Tree Commission formerly accepted a donation by W. C. Cleveland of additional acreage to the "City Park."
Though Greenville experienced steady growth and progress in the first decades of the twentieth century, infrastructure improvements moved slowly. As prominent political leaders, businessmen and professionals moved into the city's suburbs, however—most notably East Park—discussions were renewed in 1912 concerning paving a road through the park and improving the unpaved sidewalks along the streets in the neighborhood.
At the same time, the Park and Tree Commission initiated plans to beautify the park according to the 1907 plans of Kelsey and Guild. This included building a band pavilion to be used for band concerts twice weekly, dances and political speeches. The Greenville Daily News observed, "As few homes have large enough premises for children to indulge in such sports as they enjoy, addressing provision for the pleasure and welfare of the children is satisfied in plans for a playground for girls and ball ground for boys, along with cleaning out the stream to afford a splendid bathing place."
City Park served as a venue for political speeches, concerts, cultural events such as the traveling Chautauqua Series and rallies as early as 1890 and continued to do so well into the 1950s. It was also the site of training marches for soldiers from Camp Wetherill during the Spanish American War, Camp Sevier during World War I, and patriotic rallies during the Great Depression.
The first school in the neighborhood was a private Montessori School, donated by W. C. Cleveland in 1913.
East Park Neighborhood, 1920-1945
By 1920 thirty-five homes were standing and occupied in the neighborhood. Due in part to the success of the textile industry and the growing economic base, Greenville was the second wealthiest city in South Carolina in 1920. Construction in East Park peaked in the 1920s but continued strong through the 1930s. The result is a rich assortment of architectural styles, including Colonial and other period revivals, Neoclassical, Tudor, and Craftsman Bungalow. With the burgeoning growth of Greenville and the concurrent building boom, a new developer, Ed Hart, purchased the major portion of what was to become Harcourt Drive from W. C. Cleveland in 1921. Additional purchases from J. G. Keys in 1925 completed subdivision of Harcourt Drive.
In 1921, Clifton Corley, a local mill executive, built his three-story Revival Mansion on Bennett Street. In 1927 Bright and Horace J. McGee built the first home on Harcourt Drive. In the same year, C. O. Milford, president of Southeastern Life, and W. Francis Hipp, president of Liberty Life, both moved into homes on the east side of Bennett Street at the same time that George Norwood, president of the Greenville branch of South Carolina National Bank, moved into 210 East Park Avenue.
Between 1925 and 1935, construction was complete on most of the remaining lots on Harcourt Drive. The styles of these residences reflected the times. Efficiency and economy dictated smaller homes of modified Craftsman and English Cottage Revival styles. By 1935 the East Park Neighborhood was substantially complete with approximately 72 homes.
Park and Landscape
John A. McPherson, Chairman of the Park and Tree Commission, hired Carter Newman, Jr. as a full-time park and playground director in 1938. With the assistance of the Works Progress Administration (or WPA, later the Works Projects Administration), City Park underwent major renovations between 1935 and 1941. In May 1941 the Greenville City Council recognized John A. McPherson's contributions to the beautification of the city and renamed City Park in his honor. Five months later McPherson Park's newest improvement was officially dedicated. With a $7500 donation from Sears, Roebuck and Company, WPA assistance, and a contribution from the city a new recreation center was constructed of stone and opened in October 1941.
The shelter became immediately popular for teenage square dances, club meetings and children's parties. During World War II the facility was made available to military personnel every night until the end of the war.
In 1921 the private Montessori School located on Park Avenue was purchased by the city and opened as a public school named Billy Cleveland Elementary School, which remained there until 1952, when it moved to the new Summit Elementary School in 1952. At that time a new private Haynesworth Elementary School was opened in the original building; it still operates there today.
East Park Neighborhood 1945-Present
The downtown business district began to suffer the pains of suburban flight in the middle of the century. Even so, the East Park neighborhood remained residential and very stable. Several homes were converted into apartment housing or office use and three homes were demolished for condominium construction. However, the houses that have been converted to non-residential uses are along the southern edge of the neighborhood and still maintain their residential character. Modern intrusions were kept at the edges of the district, keeping the interior core intact.
A number of original owners remain in residence, some live close by and stay involved. Beginning in the 1980s, young professionals were once again drawn to the neighborhood for the same reasons the original owners built there at the turn of the twentieth century.
McPherson Park reached its heyday in 1952 with the completion of a miniature train for the transportation of children through the park. By the 1970s, with urban encroachment, the train was gone, along with the lake and baseball field, but the park changed with the times. The recreation center became a Senior Action Center. The bandstand got a new roof and a fresh coat of paint. Shuffleboard courts, tennis courts, covered benches and a miniature golf course were on the landscape.
In 2005 McPherson Park is undergoing additional improvements. A commemorative stone pavilion is being installed. Civil War cannons, removed in years past from their position in the park, are being returned. The children's playground is being refurbished and a bike/walking path is returning.
In 1989, the East Park neighborhood was designated by the City of Greenville as a local Historic District, receiving its Historic Architectural Overlay Zoning protection.
In the last few years, a new influx of young professionals, drawn by a love of history, as well as by convenience, neighborhood stability, lifestyle, schools and the arts, have again revitalized the neighborhood. The homes continue to be appreciated and valued as the single family residential properties for which they were designed.
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