Memories of an Earle Street Childhood (1918-1939)


James M. Whitmire

James M. Whitmire, Jr. Col. US Air Force (Ret.) 1917 – 2009

 An Earle Street Childhood (1918-1939)

Below is the transcript of a letter sent in 1990 by James M. Whitmire to Mr. and Mrs. Ken Dresher of 214 East Earle Street.  Col. Whitmire shares his memories of growing up at 115 West Earle Street from 1918 t0 1939. He had a distinguished career in the Air Force and died in 2009 at the age of 92.

We moved to Greenville on Earle Street from “White Horse”, our Saluda River ancestral farm, when I was one.  Like any brand new family, we were quite proud of our new home and neighbors.  I distinctly remember sitting on our front porch and enjoying the commanding view of the beautiful mountains.  The street’s surface was red dirt and white sand, which became muddy at times and mighty dusty at others.  In those days, our address was “215″ – years later changed by the city to “115”.  Our hand cranked phone number, 835J, was through an operator.  The water, sewer and electrical services were first-rate in contrast to our recently vacated rural facilities.  Most of our rooms had fireplaces for winter warmth and plenty of windows for summer cooling.  Laundry was done over black pots in the back yard with long wire lines for drying.

First and second graders on West Earle Street went to Stone Avenue School and those in the third through the seventh grades attended Stone School.  All religious persuasions were well represented with a goodly number attending the newly established Earle Street Baptist Church.

Most grocery shopping along Earle Street was done via phone orders with bicycle delivery.  Mr. J. M. Shuman and his wife operated such a store on Wilton Street just a couple of doors off of Earle Street.  Then too, there were many others like the “the Basketeria, “Coxe’s Grocery” and “Meyer’s Cash and Carry”.  On Saturdays, a number of wonderful people from the country would travel up and down Earle Street selling hams, chickens, pies, cakes, candy, vegetables, eggs, butter, bread, preserves, pickles and the like.  Dairy-produced milk was delivered each morning to the front door in glass bottles.  Some Earle Streeters, including our family, had their own cows, chickens and rather extensive gardens.  The ice man with his horse-drawn wagon came up and down Earle as needed.   Each resident had a card out front that indicated whether the need was for 25, 50, 75 or 100 pounds.

We were fortunate to have Greenville’s fire chief Frank Donald, living in the “200” block.  His bright red car, a hook and ladder and a pumper were the extent of the fire department’s equipment in those days – later on there was a pumper stationed of Earle Street and one on Pendleton Street (also on Echols Street).  For the most part, grass fires on vacant lots and wooden-shingle roof fires were the most common emergencies.  A man who lived one door off Earle Street on Robinson Street was burned up in a night fire attributed to his careless smoking.  The Miller house in the 100 block of West Earle burned as did another house on Earle at Robison.  In 1929, my mother miraculously saved my baby brother from a morning house fire that destroyed the room in which he was sleeping.

In those days, Earle Street had excellent police protection through frequent patrols.  “Slim” Williams, a most admired motorcycle officer, positioned himself on Robinson Street and nabbed about a jillion “speeders” who came tearing Earle Street at thirty miles an hour with dust flying everywhere.  Then too, I remember when Earle Street was first paved with black asphalt — all the “rollers” and other heavy equipment were left overnight unlighted and parked in the middle of the street in our “100” block.  This was fine except it was Thanksgiving night after the big Furman–Clemson football game and an enthusiastic Clemson alumnus was giving four uniformed Clemson cadets a ride in his brand new Pierce –Arrow touring car, which hit the “roller” head on, sending bodies flying in all directions.  Fortunately no one was killed, but all were hospitalized and one sustained a permanent back injury.  Then, during the 1920s, Greenville’s popular and outstandingly effective Sheriff was murdered in his garage on Stone Avenue in the Elizabeth Street area.  His property adjoined Earle Street and he was the brother of Rose Willis Goodwin who lived on our block.

In addition to the first-rate families that made up Earle Street, the one thing that sets it off from so many others is the magnificent trees, primarily great oaks.  In the beginning, these were just diverse six-foot saplings planted by the individual homeowners, thus accounting for the wide variety of oaks and maples that now provided such splendid shade in the summer and present such spectacular colors in the fall.  Now, it can be said that a majestic towering oak is a much more impressive monument than a piece of granite.  Then too, the beauty of Earle Street can, in a large measure, be attributed to the pink and white dogwoods and crepe myrtles which were placed in the median between the street and the sidewalk.  This floral profusion of splendor was the dream, plan, effort and accomplishment of so many wonderful and far-seeing ladies of the 1920s and 12930s who made up the Garden Club and the Gridley Club, which were for all intents and purposes “Earle Streeters”.  In speaking of beauty, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the young ladies growing up on Earle Street in the 1920s and 1930s were known for their beauty, grace, charm and dignity, i.e., Katherine Knight, NE corner of Earle and Main, was color girl at the United States Naval Academy for June week.

Quite interesting is the fact that during the 1920s practically all houses on Earle Street had separate garages.  Most residents worked in the downtown Main Street area and made it back and forth by foot, bus or car.  In essence, where you lived, worked, played and prayed in the 1920 City of Greenville City was in a city limits’ circular space with a radius of just one mile.  As for the cars at that day I shall never forget the Wyche’s air-cooled Franklin and our Studebaker and Hupmobile — curtains and all.

Mr. Anderson, the Earle Street postman always looked immaculate in his gray uniform with his large brown leather mail bag, always had a pleasant greeting to pass along and you could always set your watch by his arrival.  Similarly, the Greenville News and Greenville Piedmont carriers, exemplified by such outstanding carriers as Edwin Nash, could be counted on to deliver your paper to the center of your front door and on windy-rainy days to put the paper inside the screen door — all for 15 cents a week.

Opportunities for a young man to earn “after-school” money so necessary during the depression years of late 20s and early 30s quite limited even on Earle Street.  Notwithstanding, I made ten cents an hour weeding neighbors’ yards and lawns, five dollars a week delivering 125 Greenville Piedmonts along Earle Street, meager commissions selling Fuller brushes, minimal profits on selling Coca Colas and mixed soft drinks to the carpenters and other craftsmen building new houses along Earle Street as well as affectionate thanks for my grandfather and grandmother for assisting them in their sale of country hams, packages of sausage, chickens and cakes.

Athletics were evident in practically every yard along Earle Street.  Makeshift basketball courts, baseball diamonds and even football in the street itself abounded, i.e., the Payne boys: Oliver, Joe and Booty star football players at Greenville High in Clemson College; Henry Goodwin was a star back on the Greenville High Red Raiders and has remained an accomplished golfer over the years.  Also, Ralph and Bruce White were gifted baseball players who subsequently became professionals.

I recall several rather amusing thing that occurred on Earle Street in the early 1920s: the time the Wyche family went on vacation to Prosperity and Mr. Wyche returned early, resulting in the police thinking they’d caught a burglar red-handed; the time the two Whitmire and two Wyche children, ages 5, 4, 3 and 2 walked downtown the length of Main Street to Mr. Wyche’s office, who called Mrs. Wyche to find out the whereabouts Caro and Sarah who she thought had gone out in front yard to play; the time little Mary Wyche decided to play Santa Claus and fell down the chimney at the unfinished Gibson house; the time the neighborhood children were running along behind the city water truck which was busily watering down the dust on Earle when suddenly the sprinkling apparatus malfunctioned, sending an avalanche of water cascading over the unsuspecting young people.  Incidentally, entertainment in those early years was limited to record players, pianos, an occasional radio and a weekly trip to the movies.

Like other neighborhoods, Earle Street was blessed with an abundance of residents who made their mark.  Just to mention a few prominent families (1918-1939) knowing I will leave out a number who are more deserving or just as deserving, to whom I can only offer sincere apologies for my shortcomings:

  • Congressman John Jay McSwain, Chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee, lived on the SW corner of Earle and Main Street
  • Judge Clement Haynsworth, as a boy, lived on the NE corner of Earle and Robinson.
  • Mayor Mann and his family, which included his son James Mann, who later became a congressman, lived in the 300 block of West Earle
  • Lawyer C. Granville Wyche the brother of Jared Cecil Wyche, the law partner of James F. Byrnes lived in the 100 block of West Earle
  • Philanthropist Robert A. Jolley, whose son Robert A. Jolley Jr., became Greenville’s postmaster, lived in the 100 block of West Earle.
  • Dr. Fletcher Jordan, one of Greenville’s best known and beloved physicians, lived in the 100 block W. Earle.
  • Major H. H. Orr, a WW I hero and later the long-time commander of Greenville Butler Guards, lived in the 100 block of West Earle.
  • Highly successful business man William Timmons, who met his untimely death in an automobile accident in 1948, lived at two different residences in the 100 block of West Earle Street.
  • William Gibson, a principal owner of downtown Greenville business property, resided in the 100 block of West Earle Street
  • Reverend R. C. Goldsmith and Reverend Ellis Fuller where residents of the 100 block of Earle and the Reverend Ralph Viser lived on the SW corner of Wilton and Earl Streets.

When you think of Earle Street — the names, the faces and the great accomplishments of so many other wonderful families come to mind:

  • 000 Block — Burnetts Duvals, Robinsons, Shaefers and Stovers.
  • 100 Block – Andersons, Baxters, Bookers, Bradleys, Burbages, Cannons, Chaplins, Craigs, Fullers, Goodwins, Hartnesses, Jacksons, Lamberts (G. and P.) Littlejohns, MccAfees, McKinney’s McManaways, Millers Nashes, Peels, Shavers, Shealys, Sheltons, Smiths (Z. A.), Tranyhams Timmons and Whitmires.
  • 200 Block – Batsons, Boggs, Iveys, Kings, Sittons, Smiths(Hugh), Tutens and Williss.
  • 300 Block – Ballantines, Careys, Clarks, Earles, Groces, Halls, McKissicks, Millers, Stones and Watkins.
  • And on East Earle – Branyons, Campbells and Upchurchs.

Special Note: Quite naturally, the preponderance of names and events relate to the 100 Block of West Earle Street where I grew up.  Perhaps other contributors will provide extensive information on the blocks where they lived.  Basically the facts, events and names I have provided are primarily from the 1918-1929 era.

Then too, I realize the above reminisces of my boyhood on Earle Street are more detailed than your guidelines suggest.  So if you decide to put my paper aside, I will certainly understand.  At least, maybe my effort will provide some “leads” for your historian.  In any event I enjoyed jotting down my recollections, which are far more extensive than the few thought I have included here.  This is obviously a “rough first draft” with no though given to organization, continuity, spelling and other editorial perfections and in all probability some of my contemporaries may remember things differently. So be it.  These notes just represent a scattering of my memories in areas where you seemed interested.

You are to be commended for what you are doing for present-day Earle Street and I wish you well in all that you undertake!

Best wishes,

James M. Whitmire, Jr.