The city of Greenville (population 42,000) was named for Gen. Nathanael Green, a friend of George Washington. It has been the seat of Washington County since 1846. Known as the “Queen of the Delta,” it is the largest river port in the state.
Greenville is today in its second location, three miles from the original site. Prior to the Civil War, Greenville was a thriving hamlet; a cultural and business center for the large cotton plantations that surrounded it. During the siege of Vicksburg, a Union gunboat landed, and when fired upon, its troops burned down every building in town. At war’s end, returning Mississippi regiments found their homes gone and their families scattered among area plantations.
A decision was made to rebuild on the highest point on the Mississippi River between the towns of Vicksburg and Memphis. However, Greenville continued to see its share of tragedies. In 1877, yellow fever decimated the community. A full third of the population of 1,000 died, including the mayor and four of five councilmen. Soon after the city was chartered in 1886, a group of cotton planters, factors, buyers, and merchants organized the cotton exchange. Due to the rich delta soil, cotton became king, and prosperity followed.
In 1890, Greenville suffered its first flood, covering half the city. Then, after years of growth, the levee eight miles north of Greenville broke in 1927, and a torrent 10 feet deep and the size of Rhode Island flooded in, completely covering the delta for three months. It was one of the greatest natural disasters in our nation’s history.
Greenville residents persevered and rebuilt, and the city continued to grow and industrialize. At one time, Greenville was home to the largest carpet manufacturing facility in the country.
Today the Downtown Greenville historic district ends at the Mississippi River Levee, a system longer and taller than the Great Wall of China. Visitors can take a walk on top of this engineering marvel, along Greenville’s downtown waterfront. One of the two oldest working Armitage Herschell Carousels in the country, built between 1894 and 1896, was brought to Greenville in 1901 and has been carefully restored. The oldest structure downtown now houses the Flood of 1927 Museum, and the restored Miller Building houses a history museum. A vintage fire station displays antique equipment and interactive exhibits.
Greenville has a rich artistic heritage. In the 20th century, more than 100 published writers, including Shelby Foote, Hodding Carter, and Walker Percy, called Greenville home—more than any town of its size in the country. Muppet creator Jim Henson was born here and raised nearby. World-famous Delta blues musicians are honored on the Greenville Blues Walk, and venues on historic Walnut Street offer live music that continues that tradition.
Designated a Preserve America Community in October 2009.