South Carolina's "Self"-Styled City Is Diversified, Modernized & Prospering
GREENWOOD PHOTO GALLERY
Greenwood's super-wide Main Street
Mayor Floyd Nicholson
Bust of J.C. Self
Arts Councilwoman Anne Craig
"Miss Ruth" Polatti at The Hash House
Magnolia Cemetery/Mt. Pisgah AME Church
Historian Ann Herd
Park Seed Co. entrance
First Baptist Church
Goat milking demonstration
by Aïda Rogers
Of all the adjectives
people use to describe Greenwood, “sleepy” isn’t one of them. Talk to the
town leaders and they’ll overwhelm you with their projects and programs, plans
and committees. There’s a drive for a comprehensive arts center and maps for a
new medical research park. A highway is enlarging, a neighborhood is seeking
historical recognition. Chamber of commerce workers have beehived into social
change: Besides helping build parks in low-income neighborhoods, they’re
fostering volunteerism with teen-agers and adults.
Making things better is nothing new for South Carolina’s ninth-largest city. So where does the lazy pleasure seeker go?
How about Emerald Farm, where you can milk the goats and watch them
gamboling in the meadows? Or Marigold Market, for a glass of wine on the porch?
You can spend hours strolling the grounds at Park Seed Co., where 15,000
varieties of vegetable and flower seeds are produced; its annual Festival of
Flowers in June draws tens of thousands of visitors.
Then again, you can always go to the Hash House near the railroad tracks.
That’s where “Miss Ruth” Polattie has served cheeseburgers to her fan club
for decades—and waved her hardhat to every train that passes. In Greenwood,
life is real, life is earnest, but life is also pretty much fun.
“I settled for more,” announces Travis Moore, a lawyer who rooted
himself in his hometown after living in Anderson, Columbia and Greenville.
“Greenwood has a high quality of life for such a small town. We have a great
business base, medical base, lots of industry. And there are few places left
where you can get waves from strangers. We had some friends from Miami who
wanted to know if we knew all the people who waved.”
Moore, 32, is enjoying a frozen Snickers bar at the Hash House, where you
can serve your own drinks and ring yourself up at the cash register. He and
Chuck Watson, another lawyer, joke about the laid-back nature of their office:
Besides an old Coke machine, they have a chiropractor’s table and a pool
table. They know the secret of small-town living is to enjoy what you have.
According to solicitor Townes Jones, Greenwood has a lot.
“Greenwood is blessed,” affirms Jones, another native who came back
after years in the midlands and Low Country. “Ride around and see some of the
beautiful farmland between here and the lake. We’ve got some gorgeous
acreage.” Jones is heading into the Hash House for lunch, no doubt to engage
in friendly debate with former public defender Bob Tins-ley. Tinsley can recount
how his forefathers came to Greenwood from surrounding areas, practiced law and
worked with the famous Connie Maxwell Children’s Home. He likes to brag about
“We accept people regardless of their shortcomings and failures,” he
says. “But we’ve got a lot of tradition based upon a good character of
people. We come from all walks of life and it just makes Greenwood a unique
Greenwood can thank former leaders for its current prosperity, Tinsley believes. Decades of forward-thinking citizens brought and kept Lander College—now Lander University—as well as a strong hospital system, technical college and diversified industry. “And because of all that,” he declares, “we’ve wound up with a number of institutions, a number of schools, a number of businesses, a number of neighborhoods that all come together to form the unique town of Greenwood, South Carolina, which has heritage from the past, quality in the present and hope for the future!”
Whew. Take a breath there, Bob. “Well, I’m a lawyer,” he explains. “You’ve got to understand.”
While lunch at the Hash
House is as folksy as any country store gathering, a conversation with Peter
Arnoti is a fast rat-a-tat of facts and plans. “Greenwood decided many years
ago it was going to be a manufacturing community and the past leadership made
decisions that prepared it for the success we’re experiencing today,” says
Arnoti, executive director of the Greenwood County Economic Alliance, Inc. Like
many, Arnoti says Greenwood’s lack of interstate highway and commercial air
traffic hasn’t hurt the county very badly, mainly because of citizens’
“uncanny ability to work well together and ask what is best for Greenwood in
the long run.” Because it hasn’t grown as much or as fast as other areas of
the state, it’s been able to “forge its own destiny,” Arnoti believes.
Still, U.S. 25 is being widened to four lanes to connect to I-85, 50
miles away—the faster to get products to their buyers. And two business parks
(one medical, one professional and light manufacturing) are being developed.
“We have to get Greenwood to the next plateau and recommit investments to not
just catch up but once again take the lead,” Arnoti says, adding that the GCEA
wants to attract more technology-based industries.
Greenwood County has four national and two international Fortune 500
companies that ship products to 60 countries. Maybe the best known is Fuji Photo
Film, the Japanese film manufacturer that put its North American headquarters in
Greenwood in 1988. Today, Fuji has six plants in Greenwood, 62 acres “under
roof.” Besides a variety of film products, the local operation now is making
videotape. “Let me give you an idea of the volume,” Arnoti offers. “If you
took one day’s production of videotape and put that in your VCR, by the time
you reached the end, you would be 300 years older. It’s the equivalent of 14
million two-hour cassettes a month.”
While Fuji is an important player in the county’s economy, it’s not
the only one—nor the biggest. That honor continues to belong to textile giant
Greenwood Mills, formed in 1889. Led by the late James C. Self and his son J.C.
Self Jr., Greenwood Mills employs 1,500-2,000 people and has operations inside
and outside South Carolina. Though the company has entered the real estate
development business, its textile operations are declining. Two plants closed
To fill that void and help solve a range of other problems—reduce the
high school dropout rate, for example, and get children on grade level by Grade
4—the GCEA and the Greenwood Area Chamber have formed the public-private
Partnership for a Greater Greenwood County. Its goals include creating 2,000
jobs, 700 of them white-collar, and generating $200 million in new and expanded
capital investments. They plan to do this—by developing their economy and work
force—in four years. “Attainable” is Chamber director Len Bornemann’s
description of their goal. Arnoti sounds a bit more tense: “Unemployment now
is 6.2 percent and we’re worried. Textiles are up and down. There’s so much
corporate downsizing that affects us, and in spite of all the success we’ve
had in the past 14 years—with 3,900 new jobs created—we still have seen no
net new jobs in manufacturing. That brings home why we have to diversify.”
On the positive side, the partnership raised $4.6 million for economic
development and workforce initiative; its goal was $3 million.
“Our economy is strong, but one thing this leadership is not going to
allow is to have that strength lull us to sleep,” Arnoti promises. “We are
always poised to be aggressive.”
He feels “scared but positive.”
It doesn’t take long to realize Greenwood is big on health.
Self Memorial Hospital, built by and named for the prominent and
altruistic Self family, serves several counties in western South Carolina. In
two years, it will provide open-heart surgery. Many of its nurses were trained
there as students at Lander, which received money for a nursing program from the
Self Foundation in 1956.
Every autumn, the chamber, Self Memorial and other organizations sponsor
a “Wellness Celebration” in Greenwood’s uptown square. This year, about
7,500 citizens attended the one-day event, participating in 131 interactive
displays manned by 700 volunteers. Free spinal checks and cholesterol, blood
pressure and glaucoma screenings were done, main-ly for the benefit of poor
citizens who can’t afford today’s traditional health care. “We determined
that for citizens and the community to be well, we had to focus on health,”
explains Toni Hubbard, who organizes the event for the chamber. “Our Four
Corners of Wellness are economic, physical, family/spiritual and community.”
There are 176 doctors for Greenwood’s population of 22,000. “It’s a
great place to get sick in,” quips Bob Bentley, executive news editor of the Greenwood
Index-Journal. The newspaper is experiencing its own burst of health: In
August it began publishing a Saturday paper, making it a bona fide daily.
“We’re trying to establish a name for our region called The Lakelands,”
Bentley adds. “If you start from downtown and head in any direction, you’ll
cross a major lake before you’re 35 minutes out of town.”
The main one, Lake Greenwood, has 200 miles of shoreline and a nice crop
of bass. Once most-ly used for camping and fishing, the lake now attracts
residential developers. Out-of-towners have second homes on the lake; others
build their dream homes here.
For Bentley, 60, who grew up in nearby McCormick and delivered The
Index-Journal as a boy, Greenwood is a good place to live and a challenging
place to cover. “This is a very interesting city. When I left Greenwood, it
was pretty one-dimensional. Greenwood Mills was the dominant employer, and there
was some farming and retailing. It was not a very cosmopolitan place.” After
Bentley left in the early ’60s, he worked for newspapers in Florida, Texas,
New Jersey and California. When he returned in the ’90s, he was greeted by
international restaurants, companies and languages. “Greenwood plays bigger
than its league in a lot of ways,” he muses.
Businessman Boykin Curry, sometimes known as “Mr. Greenwood,” is 84 and remembers when Greenwood was smaller. He remembers when WW1 Allied Forces commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch came to speak—in French—to the people of Greenwood in 1920. He remembers when one of its last railroad depots was constructed and when they were torn down (Greenwood once had five railroad lines; now it has one). He remembers when downtown stagnated in the ’70s and early ’80s before being revitalized. And he remembers when Greenwood once ginned 55,000 bales of cotton a year. Greenwood doesn’t have a gin anymore, but it is getting a 12-screen movie theater soon. It also boasts one of SC’s few drive-in theaters and is expanding Wesley Commons, its luxurious retirement village.
Today, Curry can provide a driving tour of “The Emerald City” and
lunch at the country club, where he popped the question to Ann Herd Bowen almost
10 years ago: Would she write a history of Greenwood County? Lover of
music and history, Bowen—freshly retired from a lengthy career at
Lander—said yes. Thus was born Greenwood County: A History, just a few
years early for the county’s centennial in 1997.
Oh, the discoveries one makes when writing a book! Bowen loves the
stories of Magnolia Cemetery, across from the historic Mt. Pisgah AME church.
First is the tale of Nellie Screws, the maiden teacher who died in 1917. So
beloved was she the townspeople collected $500 to build a stone monument to her,
even though she was buried in her native Alabama. Second is the story of the
three sisters buried here—Persis, Mary and Theresa Giles—the first women to
graduate from Trinity College in North Carolina (now Duke University). The Giles
sisters came to Greenwood in 1885, following their lawyer brother, to start the
Greenwood Female College. The college operated six years before merging with a
Maybe the Giles sisters fostered a respect for education, because
Greenwood officials brought Lander College from Williamston here in 1903-04.
Named for Samuel Lander, a Methodist clergyman who believed women should be
educated, the then-Williamston Female College needed more money and space to
Once established in Greenwood, the college became supported by the
Methodist Conference. In 1951, after the conference announced it couldn’t
maintain it any longer, Greenwood County leaders took it over themselves. “Not
many people will tax themselves to help support an institution of higher
education,” Bowen says. “It was a county-owned institution. You just don’t
In 1973, Lander became a state-supported member of the South Carolina
University system. Today, it has 2,800 students, with strong programs in teacher
training, nursing and tennis. Lander has won its NCAA division in men’s tennis
11 years in a row and attracts students from around the world.
Meanwhile, Piedmont Technical College offers varied programs at its
headquarters in Greenwood. Like most agencies here, it serves people from a
Jim Self was the best
citizen Greenwood ever had,” upholds Boykin Curry, “not because he was rich,
but because he used his riches to make Greenwood what it is today.”
Curry still marvels that the millionaire textile magnate and F.E. Grier,
who ran Abney Mills, gave the go-ahead to the state Department of Commerce to
bring new industry to town. “He agreed for us to bring in industry that was
going to steal his labor,” explains Curry, who as chamber president at the
time asked if he would. Not long after, Chemstrand, later Monsanto and now
Solutia, arrived—bringing newcomers from Florida.
Since that decision in 1959, Greenwood has been welcoming a string of new
industries. “Those two men controlled Greenwood by influence and position,”
Curry says. “They opened the doors, and not only that; they assumed a tax levy
to provide water and sewer. When you subsidize the competitors, how much proof
do you need?”
Today, Self—who died two years ago—is remembered with gratitude at
the Greenwood Genetic Center. A gleaming example of what wealth and Self can do,
the center researches birth defects and mental retardation, provides education
to South Carolina teachers and physicians and counsels 20,000 South Carolina
families a year. Because Self gave the money for the center, matching funds
provided by the SC Department of Mental Retardation (now the SC Department of
Disabilities and Special Needs), the state-of-the-art center is here.
How unusual is that?
“Unheard of,” says Boo Ramage, the center’s administrator,
explaining that most state genetic centers are connected with medical
universities. “That we are totally independent is totally unique.”
The center, with offices in Charleston, Florence, Columbia and
Greenville, attracts Ph.D. and M.D. geneticists from all over the world. They
study chromosomes and attend lectures in a modern building in a rural setting.
Cows and foxes wander regularly nearby.
“There is just an undergirding quality of life here that I don’t
think is present in all communities,” observes Dr. Roger Stevenson, an
Orangeburg pediatrician who started the center with Dr. Hal Taylor, a
biochemical geneticist from Norfolk. “You don’t hear the term ‘we can’t
do that’ here. There is no precedent for failure that you have to overcome.”
The latest success is a $3.5-million expansion for the center and a medical park for biotechnology development. Thanks to a grant from the legislature and 300 acres from the Connie Maxwell Children’s Home and Greenwood Development Corp., plans are being drawn for this important development. Native son and state senator John Drummond was influential in making the new park a reality.
With so much focus on
business and health, Greenwood’s arts scene languished. But that, too, is
changing. Interior designer Anne Craig has been hired to unite cultural groups
and see that they all operate under the Federal Building’s gold leaf dome. The
Center for the Arts will house the city’s museum, community theater, chorales
and visual artists. Craig calls the plan “extremely ambitious” and predicts
it should be operating by 2005.
But nothing happens without people, and that’s Greenwood’s biggest
advantage, says Mayor Floyd Nicholson. “My favorite thing about Greenwood is
the warmness of the people,” he says, standing in the median of the town’s
famous 350-foot-wide Main Street. “People really pull together. When Hurricane
Floyd came through, several churches here opened as shelters and restaurants
Assistant principal at Northside Middle School, Nicholson likes to point
out that his wife left Promised Land to marry him and live in Greenwood.
Established in 1870 as a community for black freedmen, Promised Land is 10 miles
from Greenwood proper.
“We always work to get to ‘the promised land,’ ” Nicholson says with the exuberance of a man who loves his town, “but she was there and left!”
THIS ARTICLE IS FUNDED BY:
* Self Memorial Hospital
* Elliott, Davis & Company, LLP
For more information about Greenwood, contact the Greater Greenwood Area Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 980, Greenwood, SC 29648-0980; (864) 223-8431; e-mail: email@example.com; Web site: www.greenwoodscchamber.org.
Home Page | Back to "Sandlapper Illustrated" Contents