Garden Clubs Help Build and Beautify Greenville, South Carolina

By Bonnie & Bill Neely

Carolina Foothills Garden Club led an effort to establish Falls Park beginning in 1967 and persuaded the city to move the four-lane vehicular bridge which covered the Reedy Falls in downtown. For decades mills had dumped their waste into the river, and no one had considered it a potential focus for the growing city. In 1948 the US citizens became aware of the dangers of pollutants in water, and by 1972 laws against dumping harmful substances and waste into rivers and lakes was enforced. Reedy River had been a stinky eye-sore and place to avoid for decades.

Enforcement of the Clean Water Act enabled the development of the Falls Park by the government and private funds collected by Garden Clubs and donations. The former bridge was replaced with an outstanding suspension bridge designed by Boston-based Rosales + Partners. Liberty Bridge was constructed over a period of 12 months by Taylor and Murphy Construction Co. of Asheville, N.C. The pedestrian bridge appears to float above Reedy River and is curved to offer excellent photo-op views of the falls and now clean river.

 Falls Park beside the river was created in the wooded valley 65 feet below Greenville’s Main Street, accessible with stone steps, gently sloping ramps, and an elevator. The hillsides were carefully planned and planted with flowers and shrubs by garden club members to provide year-round beauty. The uniquely beautiful area became the focal and talking point of the city which has been listed in the Top Places to Visit and Live in many national and international magazines and newspapers for several years.

Greenville leaders and residents realized through the increase in commerce, visitors, and pride that focusing on natural beauty and preserving these wonderous gifts throughout the green upstate area brought far more profit than the cost. Greenville truly is GREEN and THE PLACE to appreciate all the Upstate has to offer in city, county, and countryside and mountains.

We recently visited the Kilgore-Lewis House at 560 N. Academy St., the oldest preserved home in Greenville, which the Garden Council decorates seasonally and features throughout the year. Visitors can enjoy this 1838 structure and the lovely gardens free. This land was Cherokee Hunting Grounds until about 1770 when Richard Pearis, who was a Tory and Indian trader from Virginia and was living with the daughter of the chief, was given about 100,000 acres, including this property. After South Carolina became a state, following the American Revolution, the land was taken over and distributed to Patriot soldiers who had fought the British.

Over the next century the land was divided many times, and Greenville’s downtown, Springwood Cemetery, McPherson Park, and other familiar notable landmarks of the city were built. Family names of these early landowners are still familiar to Greenville natives and the family names honored in many buildings, streets, plaques, and signs. Two centuries after the Cherokee gave the land to Pearis, the city of Greenville leased to the Greenville Council of Garden Clubs 5.63 acres for $1 a year. The Council acquired the 1838 house and moved it to this plot and created the lovely gardens.

This grand mansion was built by George Boyle, who sold it in 1843 for $1,200 to Josiah Kilgore.  Various families through 130 years have inherited this stately brick home and it was named for the Kilgores, the last family to call it home. The Lewis-Kilgore Historic Home is worth a visit.

My first time to walk on the beautifully preserved wood floors was at Christmas, when GCGC decorates the rooms elaborately and uses antique styles to create the winter historic decor. Club members guide visitors through each of the beautifully decorated rooms, featuring antique accoutrements and furnishings. It made Christmas spirit come alive in a lovely, inspiring way. One room upstairs was filled with amazing collectibles and seasonal decorations for sale at bargain prices. The funds gained are used to preserve the property.  I acquired an exquisite woven Thanksgiving table runner.

I am looking forward to the spring garden tour and plant sale here at Easter time! The grounds have a marker indicating the National Historic Landmark Artesian Well. The Council officially protected the property as a Wildlife Habitat and nurtures the healthy ecosystem for natural species of flora and fauna to flourish. There are many special events and public education opportunities here throughout the year. What gifts the Garden Council has provided through work and dedication to make Greenville the model city it is today. The motto for the entire Upstate is Keep Greenville GREEN!

If you enjoy this article please order my new book, #RealVentures: Did We Really Do That?!!  by #BonnieNeely available to order online at as paperback or ebook, and wherever books are sold in stores. It has hilarious and scary true adventures we had during our 47 years of RVcamping in nine countries during holidays. Any reader will find the tales terrific and fun entertainment.