Frances Davis, 82, remembers when Newtown was more than a name for an area within Greenville’s Southernside. It was a “community.”
The historically Black neighborhood was filled with families, neighbors who looked out for each other, stores, businesses and services.
“Houses were everywhere,” said Davis, who grew up on West Washington Street.
She enjoyed the community then and wants to enjoy it again.
Mountain View Baptist Church in Newtown, where Davis has been a member since the age of 12, is taking steps to fulfill that desire.
Mountain View and its subsidiary, Parish House Community Development Corporation, are building a master plan to help guide its work in developing Newtown in a way that’s not been done before, the Rev. Stacey Mills, senior pastor at Mountain View, said.
They envision a vibrant and healthy community with improved quality of life addressing quality affordable housing, health and education disparities, and the lack of economic opportunities “that have impaired Newtown and caused it not to be able to thrive and participate in the rich, quality of life that Greenville affords many of its residents,” Mills said.
What they envision is centered around social value, he said.
Mills said there have been many instances, during the development of downtown Main Street in particular, when his conversation with Mountain View congregants ended with them saying that “Main Street is not for us.”
“As tough as that may be a statement to hear or to embrace, the message behind it is bigger than the cost of parking or the activities that are held on Main Street is the disappearance of cultural representation throughout the city of Greenville, through which will be addressed through this project,” he said.
“So, this social opportunity is key to much of what we’ve talked about and envision for holding on to in this community.”
Southernside’s Newtown neighborhood spans from Cagle and Temple streets to the Legacy Charter Elementary School site on East Bramlett Road, to West Washington Street, and to Willard Street. The Reedy River and Swamp Rabbit Trail run parallel to the neighborhood only about 100 yards away.
Mountain View, initially located on Kelly Avenue, moved to Newtown’s Cagle Street in 1920.
At its pinnacle, there were 400 to 500 families living in the immediate area of Newtown.
Over the years, Mills said, there was considerable disinvestment to the Newtown neighborhood.
Houses were torn down after floods, crime and neglect.
Over the last 25 years, the church has consistently purchased property to land bank and present to the community as viable options for its future, Mills said.
Last week, Mountain View and Parish House CDC hosted a charrette to gather input and ideas for a master plan.
Newtown is known for many issues – disinvestment, contamination, flooding, and currently a food desert, said Byron Jeffries, architectural designer with Johnston Design Group and project manager for the Newtown master plan.
The charrette was an opportunity for voices to be heard “in a way that is destined to make a significant change,” he said. About 100 people attended the launch
Mary Tolliver, who has lived in and around Newtown for many years, is glad that the church has finally reached this point in its redevelopment plan.
“I know you shouldn’t, but after you go through so many things you get disillusioned,” Tolliver said at the launch of the charrette. “I’m hoping this will build this community back up.”
Mountain View shared its concept and ideas for reviving Newtown during a neighborhood meeting in 2019. The charrette to create a master plan is the first phase toward making the plan a reality.
Like others, Tolliver said she longs for Newton’s return to its village-like era.
“We lost our younger children because there was no place for them to go. We lost a lot of them because of no daycare, no recreation, no nothing,” she said.
While there is a park in Newtown, it floods and has done so for years but “nobody cared,” Tolliver said. She used to live in a house close to the church, flood waters rose to her porch to where she couldn’t walk out of her house.
Then, she said, “nobody really cared.”
“Now, we’re hoping to address all of this,” Tolliver said. “Now we have people who care.”
Davis, who now lives on Birnie Street in West Greenville, wants Newtown’s revival to include a grocery store and a multi-purpose building.
Alberta Miles Taylor, also a longtime member of Mountain View, welcomes the “build-up” of Newtown and any Black community that needs it.
A lot has changed over the years in the city’s Black communities, she said. They’re not being maintained as well as other neighborhoods, she said.
“Our roads are even different than what it is in other neighborhoods,” she said. “Some over here now got more potholes than anything.”
Taylor said she thanks God for Mills and for the effort to revive the community.
“Pastor Mills is off the chain,” she said. “He means business.”
Mountain View and the Parish House CDC owns 41 lots.
With those lots and partnerships with other landowners, Parish House will address housing, whether its multi-family, single-family attached single family detached, and a variety of incomes.
“We hope to be able to welcome people who work on Main Street but have to catch the bus a long distance to get to work every day, teachers who may teach at Legacy Charter (school) around the corner, or the police officer who patrols the neighborhood but can’t live in the neighborhood,” Mills said.
Newtown used to have two nearby grocery stores – Bi-Lo stores on Old Buncombe Road and North Main Street. Now, the nearest grocery store is two miles away.
“If you’re buying groceries for family, walking two miles with groceries isn’t the easiest thing to do,” Mills said.
“When talking with someone about food and the choices that we have, I heard somebody tell me you can’t really tell me what to eat. I said, ‘Theoretically you might be right. Philosophically, you’re wrong because if all we have in the neighborhood is a QT, a Spinx, Hardee’s or McDonald’s, then we’re telling you what to eat.”
“We hope to make an adjustment to that and address healthy food options, Mills said.