Falls Park in downtown Greenville opened in 2004 with the completion of the Liberty Bridge, a walking bridge suspended high above the flowing waters below.
The park, with its waterfall, lavish landscaping and cafe, is a gathering place for residents and a tourist attraction to go along with the Peace Center, the Bi-Lo Center, local colleges and a pedestrian-friendly downtown.
The park and bridge not only gave Greenville a hook that other cities don't have, they were a big step toward connecting Main Street to downtown's West End.
The park, previously hidden beneath a four-lane concrete roadway, underwent a $13.2 million revitalization when the street was torn down.
As odd as it seems now, some motorists had objected to tearing down the Camperdown Way bridge and replacing it with a foot bridge spanning the falls.
Built in 1962, the bridge connected Camperdown Way to western Greenville. The bridge made sense at the time, said Mayor Knox White. People avoided the area and its pollution from textile factories.
Reedy River Falls is considered the birthplace of the city. By 1775, Richard Pearis of Virginia had established a gristmill for grinding grain to order, a sawmill and a trading post to barter with the local Cherokee Indians.
For the next 150 years the river was the area's focal point, but pollution from Greenville's main industry -- textiles -- turned it into a disaster. By the 1960s, few people opposed blocking the view to the falls.
Plans to revive the falls began in the early 1980s when people realized a piece of the city's history was missing. As the river became cleaner, White, who was a councilman at the time, began showing the falls to out-of-town visitors.
"People were amazed even with the bridge," he said. "But they wanted to see it without the bridge."
But tearing it down remained a tough sell. One study said the bridge was an integral part of the road system. Another said it wasn't.
By the early 1990s, a citizens' panel said the city needed to remove the bridge because it blocked the view of the falls.
In 1998, a Columbia firm told the City Council the bridge was not needed and taking it down wouldn't create traffic problems. In February 2001, during a meeting packed with 175 people, council members voted to remove the bridge.
Liberty Bridge, a single-suspension walking bridge, is 55 feet above the falls and has a span of 380 feet. It is held up on each side by 300-ton rock anchors that begin 70 feet underground.
The bridge and the park improvements were built with hospitality tax money rather than property taxes.