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Downtown. Patrons of Trio restaurant enjoy the warm weather.
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Shoeless Joe. Above. Before playing for the White Sox, he was a Cleveland Nap starting in 1910. Above Left. A statue in Greenville remembers him today.
The small town’s claims to fame include baseball’s Shoeless Joe Jackson and the poinsettia. A weekend here includes walks over waterfalls, 1920s nostalgia and a trip to the zoo.
The Weekend: Day One
I lose my sense of balance briefly as I feel the Liberty Bridge vibrate under my feet. Poised to take a picture of the Reedy River Falls underneath the bridge, I steady myself at the railing before pressing down the shutter on my camera. The 60-foot falls, and surrounding Falls Park on the Reedy, are the most impressive parts of downtown Greenville.
A steady stream of walkers passes by on this 355-foot curving bridge, which cost $4.5 million to create. There’s a lot of energy here, with people of all ages out for a stroll or a faster-paced walk. Beneath the bridge, seated along rocks on the bank of the river, a young man and woman work on painting the canvases they have spread out in front of them. Kids roll down the bank of a hill, located in front of the Overlook Grill. We stop inside for cups of coffee and tea to carry with us as we explore the area.
Earlier in the day my dad and I left Asheville and headed east on I-26 for a rare father-daughter getaway. We don’t often get an opportunity to travel together, but my kids had other plans, and the two of us decided Greenville was the perfect destination since we hadn’t been there in a while.
Just past Hendersonville, we turned right on U.S. 25 and followed that all the way into downtown Greenville. It’s an easy drive that takes just about an hour. Streets are well marked in Greenville making it simple to find our way around. We followed the signs to Falls Park leading down South Main Street and found plenty of two-hour parking on a side street.
“The walking paths [in and around Falls Park] link from Cleveland Park up to the new CSX Rails to Trails project where they converted old railroad tracks into walking and biking paths,” says Jordan Franklin, Falls Park Garden manager. “That’s close to three and a half miles of trails from Cleveland Park to the current end of the CSX trail, not including the loops in Cleveland Park.
“There are currently plans for the CSX trail to continue roughly 16 miles into northern Greenville County, but that work has not started yet.”
Cleveland Park, covering 126 acres, features tennis and volleyball courts, softball fields, playgrounds and picnic shelters, along with several attractions: the Rock Quarry Garden, the Fernwood Nature Trail, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Greenville Zoo.
We spend much of our time strolling among the gardens adjacent to the Liberty Bridge. Franklin says this area is known as “The Cradle of Greenville,” and is where Richard Pearis originally settled. Pearis was the first non-Native American landowner in the area and built a mill and a trading post in the 18th century. After he fought against the Patriots in the American Revolution, South Carolina confiscated his land, now at the heart of Greenville.
“There have been a couple of mills, textile and gristmills, located there on the banks of the Reedy, using the power of the river,” says Franklin. “It’s where the early city of Greenville grew up and then declined during the ’60s and ’70s. Since then it’s been revitalized with an almost $14 million renovation to the park.
“March is a good time to visit the park to witness the explosion of spring-flowering bulbs,” he continues. “We plant close to 13,000 bulbs each fall for the display. We also change out our seasonal color two and a half times per year – once in the spring, once in the fall, and a partial change out in late summer.”
After lunch at the Overlook Grill, with its great selection of sandwiches and salads, we head over a couple of blocks to the historic Westin Poinsett hotel to check in. My dad remembers staying at the famed hotel when he was a teenager in the late 1940s while traveling to Miami with his mother. At that time, it was known as the Poinsett Hotel. Named for S.C. Statesman Joel Poinsett, the hotel originally opened in 1925 billed as “Carolina’s Finest.” The hotel completed a $25 million renovation in 2000.
As I walk into the lobby, I’m taken with the mosaic checkered tile floor, decorative ceilings and the marble stairways. To me, it feels and looks just like what I imagine the 1920s to be like.
Once at the Poinsett, I discover there’s no need to drive anywhere. The hotel is located within walking distance of many downtown restaurants, shops, the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, Falls Park and the historic West End district.
We begin our day with a bountiful buffet breakfast in the hotel’s Spoonbread Restaurant. A chef stands ready to make omelets on request, while other offerings include biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, cereal and pancakes. After a breakfast this big, having a chance to stroll is a great idea. We head out, again in the direction of Falls Park, and pass a statue of Joel Poinsett seated on a bench.
“He was an amazing and brilliant man,” says Arlene Marcley, executive assistant to the Greenville S.C. mayor. “He was the founder and first president of the Smithsonian, and the most traveled American in his day. He was named the first ambassador to Mexico.”
While there, Poinsett discovered a wildflower and brought it back and propagated it. It was named the “poinsettia” in his honor.