From the time Greenville began serving as host for the Southern (and later the International) Textile Exposition in 1915 until the show made its final appearance in 1962, Greenville earned the reputation as the textile center of the world.
The Textile show, which displayed modern looms and textile-mill equipment, was originally the idea of a group of Atlanta businessmen who planned to bring the event to that city. But the panic following the beginning of World War I made that group reluctant. When Greenville’s mill leaders took on the project, the Southern Textile Association was delighted but wary. The city's population was only about 20,000; it might not have the necessary resources to carry it off.
But the dozen or so textile men who met on Dec. 12, 1914, agreed it should be done. On Nov. 2, 1915, the doors of a new Piedmont and Northern Railroad warehouse were thrown open, and the first of nearly 40,000 visitors streamed through its doors to examine 169 exhibitions while members of the Southern Textile Association met at the Ottaray Hotel.
The first exposition was such a success that a committee soon formed with the objective of building a permanent hall. Judson Mill President Bennette Geer was named chairman, and J.E. Sirrine was charged with planning and constructing a $130,000 state-of-the-art exhibition space for a fall 1917 show. Every cent was raised privately.
On Dec. 10, 1917, the second textile exposition opened at Textile Hall. In the years that followed Textile Hall became the center of Greenville life as well as the site of its textile show. The city celebrated Armistice Day there; the Southern Textile Basketball Tournament was an annual event; thousands attended community rallies and Chamber of Commerce dinners, pageants, concerts, movies (including Cecil B. DeMile's “Ten Commandments”) and lectures in its flexible space.
Three major expansions nearly doubled the building's original size, but new international companies needed more space to display high-tech looms. In the 1950s the Textile Hall Corp., headed from 1920 to 1950 by attorney William Sirrine and later by Yancey Gilkerson, decided to build on the new Highway 29 Bypass (South Pleasantburg Drive), convenient to the Municipal Airport. In 1962, Textile Hall hosted its last show. The Palmetto Exposition Center (now known as the Carolina First Center) opened in 1964.
In 1992, the dilapidated Old Textile Hall, a victim of neglect, was condemned and demolished.