McPherson Park was originally known as “City Park” and is Greenville’s oldest public park. The prosperous period of Greenville’s history following the Reconstruction brought a population boom and saw the arrival of three railroads. It was around this time that Caroline Cleveland Choice (wife of attorney and political activist William Choice and daughter of Jeremiah Cleveland – merchant, banker and one of Greenville's early settlers & large landowners) donated the land for City Park in 1884, located right in the heart of what is now the East Park Historic District.
East Park is significant in landscape architecture as an example of an early twentieth century suburb. The Cleveland family had a vision of a park-like setting, and this was accomplished with retaining walls accentuating the hilly topography, grassy lawns, and trees providing shade – qualities that extended to City Park. In 1907 famous landscape architects Kelsey and Guild were hired to develop plans for beautifying the city, including the park, and plans were initiated to build a band pavilion for concerts, dances and political speeches. 1911 saw additional acreage added with a donation by W.C. Cleveland, and during WWI the park became the site of training marches for soldiers from Camp Sevier, just as it had been used by Camp Wetherill during the Spanish American War. When Greenville saw an influx of wealth with the production of war materials for WWI, the park flourished along with the East Park neighborhood.
During the Great Depression the park saw many a patriotic rally, and with the assistance of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), City Park underwent major renovations. It was in 1941 when these renovations were finished that the Greenville City Council recognized John A. McPherson's contributions to the beautification of the city and renamed the park McPherson Park. That year also saw Sears Shelter opened, named for the $7,500 donation from Sears, Roebuck and Co. that (in addition to WPA assistance and a contribution from the city) allowed its construction. The shelter was immensely popular with city residents, and was the site of everything from teenage square dances and children’s parties to club meetings. During WWII the facility was made available to military personnel every night until the end of the war.
In the 1950s McPherson Park saw its glory days, with a small lake for bathing, a baseball field and the completion of a miniature train for children (constructed by the Kiwanis Club). However, by the 1970s all that was gone, George the Train ending up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. (In a neat twist of fate the train was actually returned to Greenville County in March of 2001. Although currently down for needed track repairs, you can usually take a ride on it at the Pavilion Rec Complex.) Over the years the recreation center became a Senior Action Center, the bandstand got a new roof and a fresh coat of paint, and shuffleboard courts, tennis courts, covered benches & a miniature golf course were installed.
In 2005 McPherson Park saw additional improvements. Civil War cannons (which had been removed at some point) were returned, the children's playground was refurbished, and a bike/walking path was installed along with a commemorative stone pavilion. Even more recently a second children’s playground was built at the east end, and today the 12.5 acre park is home to the Senior Center and Log Cabin Gift Shop, lighted tennis courts, a picnic shelter and the mini golf course.
|Civil War cannons overlook the park at the Park Avenue entrance|
If you plan on visiting McPherson Park bring your own golf balls and clubs. I would suggest picking up a couple of putters at a yard sale as the course is outdoors, and frequently has leaf litter and other natural detritus on the greens. There is a large parking lot accessible from Park Avenue, and additionally steps descend from street parking along Main Street. The east playground is intended for children ages 2 to 5, while the larger, central one can be used by older children. Public restrooms are available, and the shelter is available to rent for parties and events. Finally keep your eyes peeled for the resident red-tailed hawk; each time we see it it’s had a successful hunt!