During the first decade of the twentieth century, the Boston-based landscape architecture firm Kelsey and Guild served as consultant to civic improvement groups in Columbia and Greenville and prepared citywide plans for both communities. Although the proposals made by the firm were too ambitious to receive serious consideration, Kelsey and Guild’s work set an important precedent for municipal planning in South Carolina.
In January 1904 the textile entrepreneur Thomas Fleming Parker brought Harlan P. Kelsey to Greenville to design the grounds of his Monaghan Mill. At Parker’s urging, Kelsey also spoke with business and municipal leaders in Greenville, informing them of the benefits of civic beautification. Kelsey lectured on the same subject in Columbia at a public gathering arranged by Parker’s cousin and fellow mill executive Lewis Wardlaw Parker. In promoting the ideals of the nationally popular City Beautiful movement, Kelsey inspired the formation of civic improvement organizations in each city. Citizens in Columbia organized the Civic Improvement League in February 1904, and less than two months later their counterparts in Greenville established the Municipal League.
Each organization hired Kelsey and his partner, Irvin T. Guild, to produce a citywide beautification and improvement plan. In 1905 Kelsey and Guild submitted The Improvement of Columbia, South Carolina to the Civic Improvement League, and in 1907 the Municipal League received a similar document entitled Beautifying and Improving Greenville, South Carolina. The recommendations contained in each report were similar. Kelsey and Guild proposed that public parks, tree-lined boulevards, and a “civic center”—a grouping of public buildings set amid a landscaped plaza—be created in each city. City Beautiful supporters enthusiastically received their recommendations, but limited public funding prevented municipal officials from implementing more than a few small projects. The Kelsey and Guild plans were significant for introducing the concept of a comprehensive approach to community planning, which influenced municipal policy in communities throughout South Carolina in later decades.
Kelsey and Guild. Beautifying and Improving Greenville, South Carolina. Boston: Kelsey and Guild, 1907.
———. The Improvement of Columbia, South Carolina. Harrisburg, Pa.: Mt. Pleasant Press, 1905.
Thacker, Marta Leslie. “Working for the City Beautiful: Civic Improvement in Three South Carolina Communities.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1999.