Living on Earle and James Streets
The Earle and James Street neighborhood sits atop a ridge running east to west at the edge of Greenville’s vibrant downtown. One of Greenville’s oldest residential neighborhoods, few streets rival Earle and James’s majestic oak and dogwood lined sidewalks. The homes are mostly an eclectic mix of various architectural styles from the 19th and early 20th centuries, carefully restored and maintained, which has earned the neighborhood a place on the National Register of Historic Places and protection as an Historic Preservation District in the City of Greenville.
But what makes our neighborhood truly special is the friendly, diverse and welcoming group of people who live here. On any day, neighbors are pushing strollers along leafy sidewalks, walking dogs and visiting from porch rockers. Yet residents can walk to downtown events such as Friday Night Jazz and the Saturday Market. Earle and James is the quintessential in-town Greenville neighborhood, combining a sense of community with the convenience of urban amenities.
The Colonel Elias Earle Historic District is significant for its mixture of early twentieth century architecture. The district contains excellent examples of Colonial Revival, Bungalow, Neo-Classical and Tudor Revival housing as well as many vernacular forms. Earle and James Street’s eclectic architecture unmistakably indicate early twentieth-century roots, but a few houses reveal an earlier history. These homes are remarkably intact and still in their original locations, providing a rare and valuable layer to Greenville’s architectural history. These homes also reflect the early association of the neighborhood with the Earle family.
Whitehall — In the late 18th century, Colonel T. Elias Earle acquired large tracts of land north of the nascent village that would become the City of Greenville. Earle was born in 1762 in Frederick County, Virginia, and moved to Greenville County, South Carolina, in 1787. Earle, whose father was an early member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, figured prominently in the history and development of South Carolina and the Greenville area. He was a state senator from the Greenville District, a U.S. Congressman, a silk grower, a manufacturer and first U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He died in in 1823 and is buried the Old Earle Cemetery on Buncombe Road in Greenville.
In 1813, Henry Middleton, a prominent Charleston planter and a former Governor of South Carolina, purchased one thousand contiguous acres from the Earle family. He built Whitehall, his summer residence, and spent several summers there with his large family. Upon his appointment as Minister to Russia in 1820, Middleton sold the land and Whitehall to George W. Earle, the half nephew and son-in-law of Colonel Elias Earle. In the mid-19th century, Eugenia Ann Earle, a descendant of Elias Earle, married Dr. Charles Benjamin Stone. Upon Dr. Stone’s death in 1886, his five children inherited Whitehall, which to this day is occupied by his descendants.
One of Greenville’s oldest residences Whitehall harks back to Greenville’s early nineteenth-century past as a resort town for low country residents seeking to escape the summer heat and humidity to the relatively cooler climate of the upcountry. Whitehall is a good example of the cool, breeze acclimated summer homes favored by South Carolina’s first summer vacationers. A simple white frame structure with shuttered windows, the most distinctive features of the house are the wide first and second story galleries, or piazzas, which serve as cool and shady breezeways.
The Earle Town House — The Earle Town House also has a nineteenth century past and another Earle association. In 1834, Elias Drayton Earle, son of George Earle and grandson of Colonel Elias T. Earle, purchased a house and tract of land on present-day James Street from his sister and brother-in-law, Eliza and Eliphas Smith. The date of the house’s construction is a matter of some dispute. According to information in the deeds, the house Elias Drayton Earle acquired with the property was built by Eliza’s first husband, Samuel Green, between 1829 and 1833; however, Elias Drayton Earle may have built a new house after the 1834 purchase. Some say that Colonel Elias Earle built this house in 1810 for his daughter Elizabeth (mother of Eliza and Elias Drayton, who each owned the house at one time) but little seems to back this up other than the 1910 birthday celebration marking its 100th anniversary.
Regardless of such details, the Earle Town is an architecturally distinguished example of a late Georgian dwelling, one of the few extant in upper South Carolina. Its park-like grounds, shaded by old trees and enclosed by an ivy-covered grillwork fence, feature the sanded front walk typical of its earlier years, a handsome garden front entrance of grillwork and brick, and an ivy mound approximately 100 years old (built after 1856). A rear garden with fountain is patterned after Edgar Allen Poe’s Richmond, Virginia garden. Outstanding features include distinctive wood and glass detailing surrounding the front door, double front steps, a Palladian window on the second story, hand carved mantels, six paneled doors, and raised paneled dado.
Rapid Development — In the winter of 1898 and 1899, during the Spanish-American War, the Army transformed the land near what would become the intersection of Earle and North Main Streets into Camp Wetherill, a facility for troops about to depart for the war. The Army erected a few frame buildings to house camp headquarters, a hospital, and a mess hall, but most soldiers spent the winter in tents. Whitehall, still the only house in the area, was used as a nurses’ home. The Army closed the camp and cleared out by March of 1899, but its presence had sparked an economic spurt in Greenville and the area became a hotbed of real estate activity.
By then, the growing town of Greenville was expanding toward the Earle and Stone family properties north of town. Buncombe, Rutherford, and Main Streets all had been extended north past the area, and Stone Avenue cut across the north side of Greenville. James and Earle Streets did not yet exist, but the Earle family had subdivided some of the land around the Earle Town House and by 1900, many lots had been sold and two Victorian style homes had been constructed (at 100 and 102 James Street).
At that time, Whitehall’s front lawn extended from the home to Rutherford Road. At the end of the 19th century, Florida L Stone divided the front lawn into lots for her seven children. Another nearby section was subdivided in 1906. Many of these parcels were conveyed to other members of the Stone family. The first homes built on these lots showed varied architectural styles reflecting the trend away from Victorian architecture. By 1915, homes had been built in the Dutch Colonial style (107 W Earle), shingle-style (108 W Earle) and Classic Revival (715 N Main).
Alester Furman, who had started a real estate business in 1888, organized a parade in 1906 to the area and auctioned off lots, selling $15,000 worth of property on a single day. Thanks in part to the Furman Company, the 1910s and the 1920s saw a dramatic growth of the area as an in-town neighborhood as the remaining parcels on James and Earle Streets were further subdivided, first with James Street and then along Earle Street. By 1920, most lots had been divided and sold. Many lots were still empty in 1920,but within a few years Earle and James Street began to be fully built out, mostly by businessmen who prospered in the post-World War I era. Construction peaked along Earle and James Streets in the mid-1920s, but continued into the early 1930s.
The result is a rich assortment of architectural styles, including Queen Anne, Neoclassical, Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and Period Revivals. The street is nearly exclusively residential, with the notable exception of the 1923 Neoclassical Earle Street Baptist Church that stands at the southeast corner of Robinson and Earle Streets. The neighborhood has remained residential and very stable, with only a few houses being converted into apartment buildings, a frequent ailment of older neighborhoods that have lived through suburban flight. The district is significant in community planning as an early automobile neighborhood. Side driveways, rear garages, and porte cocheres all helped the neighborhood accommodate the relatively new advent of the automobile. Typical of early automobile suburbs, houses sat back from the road and had large, grassy front yards.