Friday, September 30, 2011

Greenville, SC History Tour with John Nolan #euphoriagreenville

The moral of the story is:  Writing is important.  It will change your world.

I was at euphoria Greenville last weekend.  I feel as though I have been invited to a secret world, previously hidden to my NYC cynicism.  The antidote to my world wariness? A weekend celebration of music, food and wine in Greenville, South Carolina.

John Nolan of Greenville History Tours took us for a mosey down Main Street, discussing the city's past, transformation and plans for the future. Rebirth and rejuvenation are alive, well, and thriving in Greenville.

How did Greenville go from the "Textile Capital of the World" to the city that spawned euphoria? To over simplify it, I'll just say a boy had a pen pal. (This is how writing can change the world)

Once upon a time, in Vienna Austria, young Max Heller met some girls from Greenville who were on a European tour. Mary Mills, one of those girls, became his pen-pal. Bad things started happening in Austria in the 1930's.  Thanks to his pen pal and the community, young Max was able to escape to Greenville, SC. He stayed in Greenville, got married on Main Street, opened a business, and then in the 1960's became Mayor. I'll let John Nolan tell you the rest of the story - it's a good one with a happy ending.  He'll tell you this story and much more as he walks with you down Main Street, pointing out the old, the new and the flights of whimsey that are tucked away almost everywhere. (At one point, he pointed out small bells in the trees above our heads, ringing softly in the breeze.)

John tells another great revitalization story:  Mice on Main. 

From the start of our tour, we were looking for mice. Not the NYC big scary kind of mice, but mice that read Good Night Moon.  A high school boy came up with the idea, a local sculptor made the bronzes; now along Main Street, there are ten adorable mice just waiting to be discovered.  They provide interactive entertainment for children as their parents stroll from shops to art galleries to restaurants and independent coffee shops.

As we moseyed, we saw larger statues of Founding Fathers co-existing with modern statues.

From Max Helller standing across from the Hyatt, to Vardry McBee (above) at Courthouse Square, who by day sits watching a courtyard and all the people passing by, but by evening is a gentle old grandpa statue that children can climb on.

Further down the street,  Modern musicians play a silent flute and violin across from General Green standing in the fore court of the newspaper building, with the last "Mouse on Main" at his feet. For just a few blocks, you get a flavor of the history and a taste of the future all surrounded by the vibrancy of life.

This is what is great about weekend breaks.  Sure, it is idealistic for me to say that everything is perfect - but for one weekend, it was.  This blog post is a snapshot of a moment in time. A reminder to me, and maybe you, that to simply change your perspective you should walk along another path for a bit. My weekend at euphoria and walk down Main Street with John Nolan recharged my batteries and showed me what fate, passion and dedication can create.

We finished our tour at Falls Park along the Reedy River. Greenville is a town of waterfalls. There were water features all along our walk: Spots of beauty, reminders of the past, and great places to cool off from the heat. 

Greenville is a young, kid friendly city (both chronological kids and those at heart).  It is the only place where I've seen a closed off Main Street with a row of bouncy castles in the left lane, a live band playing good old Rock & Roll in the courtyard, and beer trucks lined up in the right lane for the grownups.  A great combination of activities for the kids to blow off some steam and for parents to kick back, relax and enjoy their Friday night. During the summer, the city sponsors free concerts on Main Street, and Shakespeare is performed in Falls Park.  This is a city that is begging you to spend time outdoors (and Reedy Park has free wi-fi!  I may have sent a tweet or two...).

John was a great tour guide and he is rightfully proud of the city.  Next year, I want to take his Greenville Culinary Tour - sampling some of the restaurants that have made Greenville a culinary destination.  If it sounds like I am gushing about Greenville, I am. There is a lot to gush about.  The secret is getting out - just remember, I told you about it first.

A slideshow from our tour:

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