A love letter to Upstate South Carolina’s finest town, a place where renewal can take on many meanings
I WOULD LIVE here, Greenville. I would live by your waters and the rocks of the Reedy River, in an apartment in Falls Park, or one of those places with a balcony overhanging the baseball stadium with the miniature Green Monster in left field and the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum across the street. I would live here, and I would walk the lengths of your Main Street, 15 blocks from West End to North Main, and eat barbecue or sushi or pizza until I was stuffed. I would try and find all your hidden mice sculptures, and I’d buy a cup of coffee at Spill the Beans, and I’d drink it under a parasol by the red maples and willow oaks that were planted in the late 1970s, rising from the concrete, the beginnings of your very revival. And then I’d shop for legalized moonshine.
I’d be just another guy on the brick walkways, in a downtown full of people taking a stroll, a place that was all but dead 40 years ago. Back then, Main Street was four lanes and there was no place to park, and metal and plastic facades hung above the empty storefronts. Four mega-malls on the outskirts of the city sucked the life out of you. But then they planted those trees. And shrunk Main Street to two lanes. And put a pedestrian bridge over the rocks and the river. Stores started coming back. Restaurants, too. And look at you now, Greenville, just this moment, with me standing here—all the tinsel still wrapped around your light posts in the wintertime.
When people think of South Carolina, they think of Charleston, or Myrtle Beach—not you. You feel like a secret. I would live here and ogle food through the fronts of all the trendy restaurants and then bar up at The Velo Fellow, with the waterfall sounds at the foot of Liberty Bridge in my ear. I would be with my wife, hopefully, having a Highland St. Terese’s Pale Ale. When I think of you, I think of her, because she is a product of the Upstate, raised in open country just 20 miles away. I think of her family, still there: her mom at the hospital as the inpatient manager of the pharmacy, her dad’s deep voice in a room with his Emmys and his Peabody, a newsman at WYFF-TV.
I see white lights strung in the trees year-round. I feel 60 degrees and shorts at Christmas. I taste fried green tomatoes at Soby’s, hear the trolley passing slowly, and I see myself six years ago standing in the lobby of the revamped Poinsett Hotel, and the fountain rising, rising, the night before I married Amanda Brown, the best day of my life.
I have lived many places, Greenville—in New York, in an apartment in the East Village where I could smell pizza baking from my window; in Los Angeles, the hazy light above the ocean in a place called Seal Beach; in Georgia, in a little blue house with two porch swings where my wife and I first made a home; and in downtown Indianapolis, in a 100-year-old Victorian, the snow knee-deep on the street a block from my favorite brewery, Sun King. But I would live here, Greenville, because no matter where I am, when I think of you I’m standing with her, and we are on the Liberty Bridge, above the water, above the glistening rock, listening to the falls, listening to the guys in the park playing guitar and steel drum. I would live here, because you seem like home to me.
Justin Heckert is a writer living in Indianapolis. Follow him on Twitter: @justinheckert.
100 miles, 1 hour and 30 minutes
What’s along the way?
Stop for a picnic at Crowders Mountain State Park in Kings Mountain. Crowders Mountain reaches 1,625 feet at its peak, while its neighboring summit, Kings Pinnacle, reaches 1,705 feet. ncparks.gov.
Want to learn more?
VisitGreenvilleSC: visitgreenvillesc.com, 800-717-0023
The Westin Poinsett Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places.
On South Main Street, the brick building that now houses Ford’s Oyster House and Cajun Kitchen was built in the early 1900s.
The trails along Falls Park make for an active town.
People sit at the bar at The Velo Fellow to let Katy Besancon pour them a drink.
➽ Start with a drink at The Velo Fellow, a British-style public house. The menu is a mixture of European and American South comfort foods, fish and chips or fried green tomatoes, shepherd’s pie or po’ boys. 1 Augusta St., Ste. 126, 864-242-9296, thevelofellow.com
➽ Spend an educational afternoon exploring some of Greenville’s museums. The Upcountry History Museum focuses on regional history. The Greenville County Museum of Art has an extensive collection of American art. And The Children’s Museum of the Upstate has hands-on exhibits for the kids. All three of these museums are located within walking distance of each other. Upcountry History Museum, 540 Buncombe St., 864-467-3100, upcountryhistory.org; The Greenville County Museum of Art, 420 College St., 864-271-7570, gcma.org; The Children’s Museum of the Upstate, 300 College St., 864-233-7755, tcmupstate.org
➽ For baseball enthusiasts, visit the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library in Greenville’s West End. The tribute to Jackson’s life and baseball career is located in the house where he lived and died. Across the street is Fluor Field, a mini-replica of Boston’s Fenway Park. From April to September, the field is home to Minor League Baseball’s Greenville Drive. Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library, 356 Field St., 864-346-4867, shoelessjoejackson.org; Fluor Field, 945 S. Main St., 864-240-4500, milb.com
➽ Follow the Swamp Rabbit Trail along the Reedy River by bike or foot. The trail runs through Falls Park, with its picturesque Liberty Bridge. Stop along the trail at the Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery for a sandwich on fresh-baked bread or coffee and a scone. Falls Park, fallspark.com; Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery, 205 Cedar Lane Rd., swamprabbitcafe.com
➽ Find the Mice on Main, the nine bronze mice sculptures that are scattered around Main Street from the Hyatt to the Poinsett Hotel. miceonmain.com
➽ Spend the evening in downtown. Have a pint at The Blue Ridge Brewing Company. Then walk down the street a third of a mile to Soby’s for dinner. Southern fare stars at the farm-to-table restaurant, with dishes such as deviled eggs, shrimp and grits, and fried chicken. The Blue Ridge Brewing Company, 217 N. Main St., 864-232-4677, blueridgebrewing.com; Soby’s, 207 S. Main St., 864-232-7007, sobys.com