HST-321: Urban and Suburban America

The Journey to Work in Greenville

A Detective Hunt with Tools and Examples


The concept of the journey to work is a highly effective heuristic for understanding a city's social organization and spatial distributions. Examining the journey to work of a single individual can help us to identity the ways in which the city operated at the human level. Comparing the different journey stories discovered by each participant can give us an intimate sense of the city's diversity of human conditions, opportunities, and constraints. The variety of stories also offers a sense of how this city changed over time while allowing us to ground-test the validity of the theories and historiographical interpretations we have seen in the course.

Basic Resources

Assignment Page
Archives Page
Greenville Library South Carolina and Local History Room

Puzzle Path 1: Via Where:

One of the most simple means of discovering a journey to work is to start with a known place. This might be a mill, church, or school, lecture hall, or office building shown in a postcard, a location from one of our tours that captured your attention, or a place associated with one of your interests, hobbies, or passions. Consider, for example, this postcard of Poe Mill: Poe Mill

(Source: "South Carolina Postcard Collection," Furman University Digital Collections, http://digicenter2.furman.edu/luna/servlet/view/all/what/South+Carolina+Postcard+Collection.)

  1. using your preferred search engine, see if you can find the obituary of someone who worked at that location. Obituaries are an excellent source for finding names and may contain other important details about the lives of potential subjects for your journey to work.

  2. Once you have identified a particular name it can be useful to search for them in the Ancestry.com databases, for information about where they lived and other basic information. (Hugh Morgan's 1930 census page from Ancestry.com and the National Archives is below:)

    Because spelling and pronunciation varied widely, it is often a good idea to try searching just the last name initially. Be sure to specify Greenville, SC as your location, but it will work better if you don't enter a birth date.

  3. Using a tool such as Google maps or Mapquest, see if you can locate the modern address. As we have seen with the Viola Street neighborhood, it is possible that the street name has changed, the houses have been renumbered, or even the street itself has been shifted from its original path. Some detective work in the USC Historic Maps Collection, the Library of Congress Maps Collection or the USGS Historic Quad Maps collections for historic names and locations.

Puzzle Path 2: Via When:

  1. You may be interested in a particular moment in time. If so, one of the best paths for finding a journey to work is through the digital newspaper collections. The America's Historical Newspapers collection contains hundreds of Greenville-related articles. Limiting your search to a particular range (say 1920-1926, for example), should provide useful articles describing where people worked and lived. The course libguide contains a wide range of other digital newspapers you can search for the keyword Greenville within a restricted block of time.

    (The article images for Cleveland Allen and Bessie Arnett are below:)

  2. As with a place search, once you have identified a name, a search of Ancestry.com should identify more complete information about where your subject lived and what their neighbors did for work.

    (Bessie Arnett, 1920 Census, Ancestry.com and National Archives)

  3. Another good resource for historic maps is the Sanborn Collection at USC, using Greenville as your keyword.
    (Snapshots from the 1920 Greenville Sanborn map showing West Washington Street and from 1923 Greenville Sanborn map showing the Sterling neighborhood and the Minus / Bessie Arnett home at 635 Green.)

Puzzle Path 3: Via Who:

  1. A very interesting way to approach discovering primary materials is by considering who Greenville's people were, in terms of occupation. A Web Search by job can help identify the names of individuals who might be worthy of further study. Here, too, obituaries can be a valuable resource for discovering the stories of ordinary people.
  2. Try this with the newspaper databases, too. Often the society pages, the birth, marriage, and graduation announcements and related materials can be quite productive of compelling stories. For example, Greenville, S.C. Social World married Cureton.
    (Social World Page from Atlanta Constitution)
  3. Another possibility is to try searching by a random last name. There are a number of lists of most common last names on the Internet, or you might look for one of the names associated with Greenville streets, or the name of a relative, or something similar.

Puzzle Path 4: Via What:

Greenville has been the site of some dramatic events, inventions, crises, and disasters. A search of the newspaper databases for keywords such as flu, fever, flood, fire, accident, murder, fight, strike, incident, or riot will generate all kinds of potential primary materials.