New acquisitions: the Bailey correspondence

Envelope mailed to Etta Bailey at Greer's Depot

We frequently receive donations of historic artifacts, and every one is deeply valued. This donation, however, simply took my breath away.

A tin box was packed with folded-up letters. Carefully unpacking it, three familiar names immediately stood out: W.C. Bailey, his wife Victoria, and daughter Etta. This is personal correspondence between family members of the first resident (literally!) and first mayor of Greer, William Clark Bailey.

The first priority was preservation and conservation; these papers, folded tightly down to tiny sizes, would need unfolded and flattened — or soon they would not unfold without disintegrating. Over the next few weeks we carefully unfolded letters, sometimes needing to relax the fibers first, then gently eased them flat.

Most are from ten years before Greer’s Depot was built through ten years after. Early letters are from Bailey’s Crossroads, before Greer was even a place; then from Greer’s Depot, including the earliest postmark we’ve seen; and finally shifting to simply “Greers.”

Several letters are from Victoria (“Vic”) to her sister Nancy. But the core of the collection is correspondence to and from Etta Bailey. One of these letters is a charming note from a young man named W. W. Burgiss:

Letter from WW Burgiss to Etta Bailey

Miss Etta
Do you feel well enough to allow me the pleasure of calling to see you tonight   Hoping to see you out soon
I am   Your Friend Truly,
W.W. Burgiss
Feby 22 º  18.86

Etta would go on to marry William “W.W.” Burgiss, soon to become the first president of Victor Mill (named after their second child, Victor Burgiss). William became one of the wealthiest men in Greenville County, and he and Etta became substantial local philanthropists. Their major work began with funding the entirety of the Greenville Shriner's Children's Hospital, and their impact remains today: the W.W. Burgiss Charities continue to assist the sick, helpless, needy, and work to increase education of the underprivileged.

Over the next weeks we will transcribe and digest the information in these letters. In my dreams they say things like “today I decided to start a city,” but that’s not how letters usually work; they will likely be filled with personal notes about friends and family. That’s okay; this town was formed by very normal people in many ways like you and me, laughing and loving and struggling through hardships. We will be better just for knowing them a bit more intimately.

— David Lovegrove

Deepest gratitude to Shuman B. Gerald, III, for trusting the Greer Heritage Museum with this priceless collection of history.

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