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History of Greenville

By: Louise Eskrigge Crump, former writer and columnist for the Delta Democrat Times

Greenville, located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, is a town of spirit that has survived fire, fever and floods.

It is the third in the State to bear the name. The first, located down near Natchez, died aborning right after the American Revolution. The second is the parent city to the present one. It was named by its founders for General Nathaniel Greene, beloved friend of George Washington, for whom the county was named. This second city was located three miles from the present site, where today stands Greenville’s Industrial fill.

The second town was a thriving hamlet in the days before the Civil War. It formed the business and cultural center for the large cotton plantations that surrounded it. The town was destroyed during the siege of Vicksburg when troops from a Yankee gunboat landed, and when fired upon, burned every building. The inhabitants took refuge in plantation homes of the area. When the war was over, ragged, crippled veterans of Mississippi regiments found their homes gone and their families scattered.

For a time these men rested, but not for long. They had been defeated in battle but not in spirit. They met in twos and threes and finally en-mass and decided to build again. The place chosen was the highest point on the Mississippi River between the towns of Vicksburg and Memphis. It belonged to the Roach and Blanton families; the major part of the area selected was on the property owned by Mrs. Harriet Blanton Theobald. She welcomed the idea of a new Greenville and gave land for schools and churches and public buildings, earning the name of the “Mother of Greenville”.

Major Richard O’Hea, who planned the fortifications at Vicksburg that held Grant’s troops in check for so long, was hired to lay out the new town. But hardly had homes been erected, and the new city government set up before tragedy struck again. The era of Reconstruction descended and the little town was paralyzed by the rule of the Carpet Bag. Hard on the heels of this tragedy came another and more deadly one.

Late in August of 1877, yellow fever in its most deadly form broke out in Greenville. Business was paralyzed. Not a family escaped tragedy, but the spirit of the town prevailed; and in 1886, the city petitioned and received its first charter. Two years later the first step toward economic entrenchment came when a group of cotton factors, buyers, merchants and planters, organized the cotton exchange.

In 1890, Greenville suffered its first flood. One half of the city was covered and the fight with Old Man River had begun. This ended four decades later when the Federal Government rescued the river towns and flood control was established.

Years passed and the town grew slowly, but gradually mud-covered streets and plank sidewalks began to disappear. The old business district, demolished by the caving banks of the Mississippi River, was replaced by paved streets lined with smart shops. New churches, schools, parks, theaters, and hospitals came into being.

Then, once again, the prosperity and growth were halted as the river rose and broke through its levee, covering the town for a three-month period. This was in 1927, but once again the city rose this time from flood waters that had covered every inch of ground.

Once again, the city met disaster without faltering. Today it is the Mississippi River’s largest river port. Agriculture has thrived and industry has been brought in. It boasts not only economic but cultural advantages with its fine schools, its Art Center and libraries, its outstanding newspaper, its Little Theater, Choral Society and Symphony League.

The City of Greenville has grown. Today it covers eight square miles, a busy prosperous place and yet in many ways it has not changed. It is the same city, actuated by the spirit of the men who built it, those war weary men who, returning from the Civil War, found their homes in ashes, but built again.

*This history article was written circa 1952 and was acquired from the Greenville History Museum.