Life is rarely dull in the town of Greenville, home to around 30,000 people about 50 miles northeast of Dallas. In the early 1900s, the bustling community was a major player in the cotton industry. Nearly 40 years later, in 1949, the New York Yankees came to town to play an exhibition match against the minor league Greenville Majors. The Majors won, as documented in a New York Times headline that read, “Yanks are beaten by Greenville, 4-3.” The town has hosted musical acts such as Elvis Presley, Dave Brubeck, George Jones, and Ronnie Milsap, all of whom performed at Municipal Auditorium. Perhaps no one is more familiar with the town’s storied past than Terry Driggers, a 56-year-old real estate agent and history buff. Over the years, the Greenville native has amassed a mountain of town memorabilia, ranging from the original nickel sign for a local burger joint called CB Hamburgers to antique photos of past residents. He has even acquired some of the historic buildings themselves. “Nothing is too big or too small,” Driggers says. He says Dallas folks are becoming more curious about Greenville’s community, which has sparked developments in town. A vineyard is opening in the southern part of town; an appliance store downtown is being transformed into a brewery; and construction is underway on a 325-acre housing development. Greenville’s newest chapter is about to unfold.
An Easy Study
“I grew up here on Tremont Street. Our chain-link fence butted up against Crockett Elementary, so all we had to do was walk out the back gate and we were in the schoolyard. They built a new high school in 1982, and I was in the second graduating class. I played baseball and showed cattle.”
“Our life was built around Bill Betts, the city ballpark that’s no longer here. We had YMCA ball and huge city leagues. We still do. The field was right off the Sabine River, so if it come a floodin’, the water would be all over the concession stands. My dad—I would nearly call him a baseball junkie—my brother, and I played so much baseball growing up.”
“This is a jewel. I’ve gone there since I was just knee-high. The school would take us to watch the Dallas Symphony. I don’t know that there’s a bad seat in there. I sat in the balcony when Merle [Haggard] was here.”
“If you’re gonna do lunch, do Ernie’s Pit Barbeque. Get an Ernie’s Burger or an Ernie’s Basket. I don’t know what they do differently, but they have an amazing French fry.”
The Land Provides
“On Saturday mornings, there’s every kind of local fruit and vegetable being sold at the market downtown. A lot of people go to get local honey and local beef. People like the local stuff. It’s almost like they’re taking a step back since COVID, when you didn’t have anything on the shelf. At my house, we have a full greenhouse, cattle in the pasture, and fish in the pools. If nothing else, we’re gonna eat.”
“The last 10 years have probably been the most serious for what we call the ‘treasure hunt’— getting the reputation that I’m out looking for this [historical] stuff. Even when I have small displays at the county fair, it’s amazing. People see them and get flooded with memories. People will call me from estate sales and say, ‘Terry, there’s just beaucoups of stuff.’”
“[New residents] are coming faster than we can get ready for them. Not everyone is on the ‘I want it to grow’ side. Some people say they came to a sleepy town, and they want it to stay sleepy. But it’s gonna happen when you got three major roads coming to your door. You’re not gonna dodge it.”
Sleigh Bells Ring
“I have been a professional Santa Claus for over 30 years. These are memories of what it was like when I was a kid. It’s a tradition for me. Starting every December, I do it in town, I do it in the parade. And I’ve got a Santa collection, a Christmas collection. It’s absurd. My wife says, ‘Oh my gosh, when you die, somebody’s going to have a field day.’”
Number of Stoplights:
Dallas, 50 miles southwest
Cotton Boll Art Fest, first weekend of June at the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum
Greenville Municipal Auditorium, 2821 Washington St.