Monday, September 15, 2014

Lots of growing going on in Greenwood, SC

Like many county seats in the South, Greenwood, SC, has a charming, antebellum and turn-of-the-century downtown for its population of 23,000. Unlike many of the others, the movers and shakers here work to make sure their downtown - or uptown as they call it - thrives.

Kelly McWhorter of the Greenwood Regional Visitors and Tourism Bureau gave us a quick tour of three adjacent, re-purposed buildings on Main Street that had been turned into a cultural arts center, a community theater home and a science and history museum. All three nonprofits are interconnected as the Emerald Triangle.

Images from the center's files.
The Cultural Center is airy and spacious with well displayed art by regional artists in what was once a federal building built in 1911 as a post office and expanded in the 1930s.

Handsome inside and out.
Since opening in 2006, the 3,300-square-foot gallery space has had 180,000 visitors.

The Museum fills three levels with special exhibits plus permanent ones. The Regional History and 1900s Main Street exhibit takes visitors back in time. Naturally, we had to try on hats in the Milliner's shop.

How's this for 1914 chapeaus?
Given time we would have loved to explore the M. J. "Doc" Rhodes Gems and Minerals Gallery, the Epic Journeys of Animal Migration and the interactive Discovery Lab.

"Footloose" is the next production, opening Oct. 17, 2014.
The Theatre, once a movie house, is home to the thriving Greenwood Community Theatre. Executive Director Stephen Gilbert showed us around the 300-seat facility and talked about the group's success.

Musicals, staged with a 13-15-piece orchestra and at an average cost of $25,000 to $35,000 apiece, are particularly popular, playing to Standing Room Only audiences. There seems to be no lack of enthusiasm on the other side of the curtain: the recent "Wizard of Oz" production drew 212 auditioners for the 70-80-person cast.

It's a true year-round season with main and second stage productions, a children's theater, special events and movies when the stage is dark.

Connected to the Museum but located at the other end of Main Street, The Railroad Historical Center is a work in progress. Historically a railroad and textile town, Greenwood had five different lines coming through it in 1914. Now four of those antique cars are being restored and memorabilia and artifacts collected and displayed.

Speaking of Main Street, Greenwood's was once considered the widest in the world but reconfiguring it to add store front parking ended that status. It's still pretty wide and the convenient parking probably adds to uptown's success.

Topiary to show
Another reason for Greenwood's popularity is its festivals - barbecue, catfish, discovery, 4th of July stars and our favorite, flowers and the giant topiary featured during The SC Festival of FlowersIt began 47 years ago and peaks the fourth weekend in June. They start putting out the topiary in May and leave it up through most of July.
Prepping for new moss.

We visited horticulturist Ann Barklow, keeper and grower of the Disney-scaled creations, in the greenhouse where volunteers were preparing the beasts for their next plantings.

The original 13 have grown to 40. A giant tiger and gamecock honoring college mascots and safari wildlife from apes to elephants stand waiting for a fresh foundation of moss for the flowers that will make them standouts.

Lunch time brought us to Kickers, a tiny restaurant with huge flavors across from the Farmers Market, where Chef Abdel Dimiati and wife Andrea serve an international, innovative, organic cuisine. His soups are outstanding and dessert, , a fried Oreo, came as a lagniappe. Never would have ordered one but the almost pudding consistency of the cookie and the non-greasy crust was a flavorful surprise.

A surprisingly good fried Oreo.
Don't miss this little gem.

Note the quilt square on side of far left building.
McCormick was another tiny destination, but we were a bit disappointed. The gold mine over which the town is built was closed, the steam-driven cotton gin, one of two in the country, didn't work, the historic house was for sale (its exterior in need of TLC) and the vaunted Quilt Trail was a mere few stops long with small- to medium-sized painted quilt squares.
A quilt square in progress.
With the South Carolina portion of giant Lake Thurmond, the county does have three of the state's six state parks with excellent outdoor recreation facilities including a golf course. Alas, none of them were on our schedule.

Our list of next times is getting awfully long.

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