contentsSimpsonville SC Chamberads

Embracing our History

Simpsonville has a long and storied history. The first white settler to the area arrived in 1774, before the Revolutionary War. It was Cherokee tribal land at the time and virtually lawless, but Nathaniel Austin settled here with his wife and 11 children regardless, carving out a huge homestead located east of today’s downtown Simpsonville. He called it “Gilder.”

“There was supposedly a rocky relationship between the Austins and the Cherokee. In fact, as the stories go, his daughter was killed by the Cherokee,” explained Andrew Staton, executive director of the Simpsonville Genealogical Research Room and author of “Images of America: Simpsonville.” His new book is a compendium of 202 historic and current photos that is available for purchase at Carolina Olive Oil, Vaughn’s Country Store, and the Genealogical Research Room, among other

local businesses.

The Cherokee were not the only ones with whom the settlers were scuffling. The strife of the Revolutionary War even reached this far into the upcountry. In fact, the Battle of the Great Cane Brake was fought here in December 1775 in the area along the Reedy River that is now occupied by Hopkin’s Farm. South Carolina militia, along with some Continental regulars, ventured into Cherokee country to clear out some Loyalists (Tories) who were gathering in the area and routed them for a significant American victory, Staton said.

As the years went on, more families settled in the Simpsonville area to farm, including the Kilgores and the Greshams. It took until the 1840s, however, for a community to begin to form that was originally known as “Plain.” During that time Peter Simpson relocated to the area to establish a blacksmith shop and became the postmaster. With lots of hard work and encouragement from Simpson, a community grew up around the post office and was eventually named in his honor.

The biggest thing to happen for the little town, however, was the coming of the railroad in 1885, Staton said. It gave Simpsonville greater access to the rest of the surrounding area so more and more merchants and tradesmen chose to locate here.

The Cedar Grove and First Baptist Churches were the first churches built in downtown Simpsonville, although there were others that had been established earlier on the perimeter of the community. A school was also built because education was highly valued by the residents, Staton said. In fact, there was once a music college in Simpsonville and the Simpsonville Schools were the first in the county to add an 11th grade to its curriculum.

Simpsonville was formally incorporated on July 26, 1901. The primary occupation of local residents was still farming, however, until the town built a textile mill in 1907. The upcountry of South Carolina was known at the time for its textile mills where they transformed the cotton grown in the Lowcountry into cloth and Simpsonville wanted it as a source of income.

The mill drew additional residents to Simpsonville and a small neighborhood grew up around the mill, which was eventually purchased by the Woodside brothers who made it a part of their Woodside chain of mills. It was a major place of employment for many years but began a slow decline in the 1950s when more modern industries like Cryovac, a food packaging company, began to move in. The mill finally closed in 1980 and today the mill structure has been converted into condominiums.

L.L. Richardson, a physician, served as Simpsonville’s mayor from 1917 until his death in 1958. He presided over the town during the heyday of the textile mill, steering it through the challenges of The Depression and World War II. He was well-liked and is viewed by most as Simpsonville’s benevolent father. His passing was viewed as a huge loss, despite his advanced age.

Several of Richardson’s sons also contributed to Simpsonville’s growth during those years. One became the superintendent of schools and another founded the Jeff Richardson Company, a real estate firm that still exists today.

The late 1950s into the 1960s was a period of profound change for Simpsonville. The old all-white Simpsonville High School closed in 1957, as did similarly tiny schools in neighboring Mauldin and Fountain Inn. They merged to create Hillcrest High School, which still thrives today, Staton said.

Several years later, thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, the area’s

all-black Bryson High School closed and merged into Hillcrest High School, as well.

It was also during this time that U.S. Secretary of Education and South Carolina Governor Richard Riley, who helped to found the local Rotary Club, got his political start as Simpsonville’s municipal attorney.

Simpsonville began to truly boom in the 1970s when developer Ralph Hendricks built two huge subdivisions in the community – Poinsettia and Westwood. At the time, Westwood was the largest subdivision ever built in South Carolina and these two housing developments led to Simpsonville’s population boom. Hendricks was elected mayor in 1975 and he served for 12 years, building Simpsonville’s iconic clock tower during that time.

Today, although Simpsonville can be considered a suburb of Greenville, the small-town spirit of the past is still very much alive, Staton noted. National retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and large grocery stores serve residents from Fairview Road while smaller local businesses continue to thrive in the historic downtown.

Simpsonville is currently undergoing another building boom as more and more farmland along the edges of the community are annexed and additional homes and commercial ventures are built.

Despite the growth, Staton said that Simpsonville still maintains a nice balance between country and modern suburb.

previous topic
next topic
Town Square Publications