Sandlapper Society

Greenwood Revisited

by Donna Thorne

Ten years ago, Sandlapper paid a visit to Greenwood when this city of 22,000 people was on the cusp of big change. As the county seat, Greenwood has long been the hub of a six-county area in the Upstate, drawing people from the surrounding area who take advantage of its educational, healthcare, retail and cultural amenities. On our return trip, we found a city vastly different than the one we visited in 2000. Whoever said, "change is good" was talking about Greenwood.

The Emerald Triangle

A decade ago, revitalization of Greenwood's downtown was just entering the planning stages. In 2003, the city developed a master plan that included an arts and cultural district. In just five short years, more than $10 million was invested in public projects within the Emerald Triangle, a nine-acre wedge of property in the heart of the city.

The old Federal Building, renovated in 2006, is now home to the Greenwood Arts Center, a 25,000-square-foot facility that houses an art gallery, reception hall, conference rooms, catering kitchen, a courtyard garden, classrooms and studio space for artists in residence. The Arts Council, the Greenwood Regional Tourism and Visitors Bureau and The Self Family Foundation are also housed there. The following year, the refurbished Greenwood Community Theatre opened its doors.The 300-seat venue plays host to Greenwood's community players as well as films, lectures, presentations and other entertainment. In 2008, The Museum reopened following a facelift and the creation of new, interactive exhibits that celebrate the area's rich history. Other improvements included streetscaping and the restoration of the fa├žades of 24 buildings within the Triangle.


Benjamin Mays: Greenwood's Activist Educator

Born in 1894 just outside Greenwood, Benjamin Mays saw his father harassed by a bigoted mob as a child. The incident made a lasting impression and he vowed to do something to change things. And he did. After graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, Mays went on to integrated Bates College in Maine and graduated with honors in 1920. He then attained a master's degree and a PhD in religion from the University of Chicago. Mays became president of Morehouse College where he profoundly influenced the lives of his students, including Martin Luther King Jr. Like King, Mays espoused nonviolent protest to end segregation and obtain equal rights. His stature and integrity led him to serve as advisor to presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter, and on many influential boards and commissions. Recently, the wood cabin where he was born was moved to Greenwood and is open to the public as the Mays House Museum, an important reminder of the struggle for equality and a lasting memorial for a Civil Rights hero.

The revitalization of the area has spawned a number of new businesses in the Triangle including art and photography studios, a jewelry store, several specialty boutiques and new restaurants Kickers, Polo's, R3 Catering, Bistro & Gourmet Marketplace, Howard's On Main and Uptown Sushi. Not only has the revitalization been a catalyst for new businesses, it has also greatly enhanced Greenwood's reputation as a cultural arts destination and made it a better place to live and work. "Creative economy jobs tend to influence the location and expansion of knowledge economy jobs," says Greenwood City Manager Charlie Barrineau. "Maintaining and expanding the quality of life are critical for Greenwood to attract physicians and other support staff for Self Regional Healthcare, the Greenwood Genetic Center and other expanding knowledge economy industries."

Lots to Do and See

There's always something happening in and around Greenwood. Each June, the South Carolina Festival of Flowers features more than 30 events sure to please adults, kids and, of course, avid gardeners. Park Seed Company opens its famous gardens, greenhouses and shop to the public. Uptown Greenwood features a safari topiary display featuring lions, elephants and collegiate mascots, a photography competition, crafters, artists, food, music and more. The Festival of Flowers has been recognized as a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society.

A month later, Uptown Greenwood is hopping again with the South Carolina Festival of Discovery. Mouthwatering aromas waft through the air as teams from across the nation cook Carolina barbecue and black kettle hash. The festival also features numerous blues performers with their unique Southern sounds, rides, arts and crafts, dance and folklore. For a relaxing and informative afternoon, Emerald Farm located on the outskirts of the city encourages you to try your hand at milking goats, take a walk through the spectacular herb gardens, and visit the soap factory and gift shop. There's even a natural foods store and a train and hobby shop with model trains chugging around the tracks. Or you can head over to Lake Greenwood for bass fishing, camping, boating and other water sports. With 200 miles of shoreline, Lake Greenwood is dotted with residential developments. Out-of-towners have vacation homes here, while many locals have built their dream houses on the shore.

And Greenwood has great neighbors. Down the road in Ware Shoals, 20,000 visitors descend on this charming town for the annual Catfish Festival each Memorial Day weekend. In addition to the catfish feast, there's a carnival, arts and crafts, and a street dance. Just south of Greenwood is Ninety Six, the site of Star Fort where American Revolutionary forces withstood a 28-day siege by the British in 1781. Living history programs run there throughout the year and, each April, there's a re-enactment of the siege. In October, a candlelight tour draws hundreds of visitors and, in November, the Backcountry Holiday program highlights colonial Christmas customs and traditions. Nearby, the small hamlet of Hodges is home to Cokesbury College, a group of antebellum structures on the National Register of Historic Places. While you're there, be sure to check out Godfrey's Market, an eclectic country store that sells a little bit of everything.A Diverse Economy Like many Southern towns, Greenwood once depended on the textile industry. James C. Self became president of Greenwood Mills in 1908 and went on to become the town's best-known and best- loved citizen. Not only was Self a leading businessman, he became a leading philanthropist as well. He created a family foundation that funded the construction of Self Memorial Hospital in 1951. Self gave the hospital to the county and today Self Regional Healthcare is the area's largest employer, serving the entire region. The hospital boasts the latest technology, is nationally recognized for its advanced spinal surgery program and has been ranked in the top ten percent for excellence in patient satisfaction for the last two years.

In 1974, The Self Family Foundation provided a major grant to create the Greenwood Genetic Center. Here, geneticists, physicians and scientists research the causes of birth defects, diagnose patients, counsel individuals and families, and educate the medical community, teachers and the public about genetic conditions. The Center, in conjunction with the Greenwood Partnership Alliance, helped recruit the South Carolina Research Association (SCRA) that serves start-up life science and biotechnology companies by offering affordable specialized and support services. With six wet labs and office space, the SCRA adjoins the Genetic Center, and has secured the surrounding acreage for biotech park development.

Greenwood is also home to several international companies. Fujifilm's North American manufacturing and research and development headquarters is located here. With eight manufacturing facilities covering more than 2.5 million square feet of space, Fuji has invested more than $1.5 billion in Greenwood since it broke ground here in 1988. Solutia makes performance materials and specialty chemicals that improve and enhance existing products. Velux, the world's largest manufacturer of roof windows and skylights, has its North American headquarters in Greenwood. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer's Capsugel divisional headquarters are also located here. One of ten global locations, Capsugel is the world's largest maker of two-piece capsules and is a leader in production and technical support for oral dosage. And, since the 1920s, Carolina Pride has been producing some of the country's best pork products from its home base in Greenwood.

Living and Learning

Greenwood boasts not one, but two institutions of higher learning. Lander University, with a student body of 3,000, began in 1872 as Williamston Female College. Lander moved to Greenwood in 1904 and was supported by the Methodist Conference until 1951. When the Conference announced it could no longer support the school, Greenwood County leaders ran it themselves until Lander became state supported in 1973. County-owned colleges are rare indeed and Greenwood's interim support showed the county's strong commitment to education.

Lander's latest expansion is its 25-acre Recreation, Wellness and Sports Complex that has transformed an abandoned shopping center into an asset for the entire city. A new 37-acre Equestrian Center is also under construction and will be home to both Lander's equestrian team and to therapeutic riding programs offered by the non-profit Burton Center for people with disabilities and other special needs. "In addition to the obvious benefits to their users, the sports complex and the equestrian center will each provide their own unique opportunities for interaction between the community and the university, furthering our ability to serve as Greenwood's primary institution of higher learning and service," said Adam Taylor, of Lander University.

Piedmont Technical College has called Greenwood home since 1966. With more than 80 academic programs that lead to well-paying careers, transfer agreements with colleges and universities throughout the state, and a wide selection of online courses, Piedmont Tech is a great option for high school graduates and those returning to school to further their education.

While college-age students are a big part of Greenwood, another segment of the population has discovered the good life in the area. Retirees are flocking to Greenwood to take advantage of its excellent healthcare, cultural offerings, friendly small-town atmosphere, beautiful scenery and affordable real estate prices. Seniors can choose to live near the excitement of the city center or enjoy a waterfront view at the lake.

Dreams Do Come True

When I look back to where Greenwood was 10 years ago and compare it to our Uptown now, I am always amazed," says Mayor Welborn Adams. "The Emerald Triangle brought a revitalization of buildings as well as community activities. With the additions of a new library, as well as Lander's Recreation, Wellness and Sports Complex, Greenwood has positioned itself to be a thriving arts, cultural and sports hub. I believe Greenwood will continue to expand and shine as a city of progress and opportunities." Indeed, Greenwood has come a long way in a short time, improving the quality of life for the entire region. But don't take our word for it. Go see for yourself! 

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Photos courtesy of the City of Greenwood, Greenwood Partnership Alliance and South Comm Publishing, all rights reserved. This article sponsored by Greenwood Partnership Alliance, Greenwood Area Chamber of Commerce, City of Greenwood, Greenwood County, The Self Family Foundation and Greenwood Regional Tourism & Visitors Bureau.