How trees transformed Greenville, SC’s Main Street

The shade makes Main Street the perfect location for events + festivals. | Photo by GVLtoday

One of our favorite things about Greenville is how green it is, especially on Main Street. The canopy of tall green trees makes it the perfect place to walk, shop + eat outside. DYK: Main Street didn’t always look this way?

Main Street started as a four-lane highway, filling downtown with the hum of car noise. It had narrow, empty sidewalks, parallel parking + not a tree in sight.

Peep Greenville’s Main Street in the 1950s. | Photo via the Greenville County Historical Society

In 1968, city leaders created the Downtown Development Plan to revive the city center, and work began in 1979. Main Street was condensed to a two-lane road, sidewalks were expanded to 18 feet to allow room for pedestrians and outdoor dining + dozens of trees were planted.

Willow oaks + red maples lined Main Street until 2000, when Dale Westermeier, a horticulturalist and Greenville’s former Parks and Recreation Director, discovered that the trees were planted too close together and would eventually die. 

Under Westermeier’s leadership, the red maples were replaced over the next decade with the trees we see today: Chinese elms, black gums, Nuttall oaks, Chinese pistache + Shumard oaks. Around 200 trees now line the streets of downtown, and provide benefits like:

  • Cleaning the air
  • Cooling the streets during the summer months
  • Providing shade for pedestrians
  • Absorbing stormwater runoff 
  • Increasing property values
  • Boosting economic development

Greenville’s downtown + tree-lined Main Street have been lauded in publications like Condé Nast, Thrillist, and Travel + Leisure. The trees have helped transform Greenville into Southern Living’s South’s Best City On The Rise, bringing people from all over to enjoy our tree-mendous Main Street. 

Want to help keep Greenville green by planting a tree in your own backyard? Check out tree planting guidelines from Trees Upstate + keep an eye out for a free tree giveaway this fall.