What does Greenville, SC have that no other city of its size
has? A waterfall right in the middle of downtown! Beautiful Falls Park was a
visionary idea that is a large part of the reason why Greenville has been
successful in revitalizing its downtown, maintaining a diverse and successful
culinary scene and keeping the tourists and locals coming to its city center.
The area surrounding the waterfall on Reedy River has been called “the cradle of
Greenville” as the falls were the reason behind the first white settlers choosing
the area. The same Richard Pearis whose misspelled name is in the roots of
Paris Mountain’s name, that Mr. Pearis had a trading post and grist mill at the
base of the falls in 1768. Because he married a Cherokee woman he was able to
circumnavigate the laws against buying property from the Native Americans, and
this is how he came to own some 50,000 acres in the area, including the falls.
Mr. Pearis sided with the British during the American Revolution, and upon returning
to Greenville after the war his family and business were gone, burned by his opponents.
Over the next two hundred years the falls changed ownership
several times, with a variety of industries clustering along the Reedy River:
ironworks, the Gower, Cox, and Markley Coach Factory, a sawmill, a paper
factory, an armory, grist and corn mills, and Camperdown Mill, which produced
yarn and gingham until 1956. Whole families, including children as young as 9
or 10 worked at the mills, renting rooms at the mill houses for 50 cents a week.
The river came to be heavily polluted and in 1960 the Camperdown Bridge was
built across the falls, obstructing public view and creating a barrier to
public access for over 40 years.
In 1967, Furman University donated six acres surrounding the
falls to the City, which in turn agreed to create and maintain a park, but despite
the work of the Carolina Foothills Garden Club and the City of Greenville’s
plans, not much changed around the actual falls until the bridge was removed in
2003. It was then that a $13 million dollar investment was made to transform
the park into a space that would be utilized by the public and bring tourists
to the area. A new pedestrian-only, curved suspension bridge was constructed,
designed by architect Miguel Rosales and standing 355 feet long, providing dramatic
views of the park and falls. Liberty Bridge could be considered the crowning
achievement of a 25-year revitalization plan that has successfully brought
people and businesses back to downtown Greenville.
I find the bridge graceful and aesthetic, adding to the
scenery instead of detracting from it; the nighttime skyline especially is
enhanced by the elegant lighting. I first visited Greenville in 2004 and so I
never saw the old Camperdown bridge, but I have witnessed the transformation of
Greenville’s West End into the popular neighborhood it is today, and I believe
it has a lot to do with the river that runs right through the heart of the