In the mid-1980s, the Carolina Foothills Garden Club and the City of Greenville adopted a master plan for the park that was designed to restore the beauty of the area and provide a safe and welcoming gathering spot for individuals and groups.
The vision for a dramatic public garden was finally realized when the Camperdown Bridge was removed in 2002. Using funds generated through a local hospitality tax, and building on the master plan designed in 1999 by landscape architect Andrea Mains, Falls Park was developed to include 20 acres of gardens showcasing Reedy River Falls. In August 2002, Mayor Knox White announced "In Full Bloom in 2003," a $13 million initiative to transform the park into a public garden and oasis. Included in the project was construction of a 355-foot-long, 12-foot-wide, curved suspension bridge that was designed by world-renowned architect Miguel Rosales to provide dramatic views of the upper falls and the gardens below. Additional designs called for a new park building with two levels of plazas, a private restaurant, public restrooms and the garden's maintenance facility to be located on the South Main Street end of the bridge.
Hidden away for more than 40 years, the Reedy River Falls were obscured by the Camperdown Bridge until its removal in 2002.
The pedestrian bridge opened views of the falls and the park.
Most of modern day Greenville was hunting land used by the Cherokee Indians, whose main villages were located in what is now Oconee County. A part of the Iroquoian Nation, the Cherokees may have set up temporary summer camps along the banks of the Reedy River. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Indian artifacts were found along the north bank of the river.
European settlers were forbidden to live here until 1777, when the Cherokee were forced to cede their land to the new state. Referred to as the "the cradle of Greenville," it was the magnificent, life-giving falls of the Reedy River that led the first settlers to this region.
In 1768, Richard Pearis, who was married to a Cherokee Indian, established a trading post and grist mill at the base of the falls. In 1774, Pearis bought 50,000 acres – including the falls - from his son, who was considered a member of the Cherokee Nation. At the time, it was unlawful for a white man to purchase land from the Indians, so this allowed Pearis to get around the system. Pearis eventually sided with the British during the American Revolution. When he returned to Greenville, his business and family were gone.
Following Pearis, Lemuel Alston built a small tub mill on the site of Pearis’ mill. In 1815, Vardry McBee bought more than 11,000 acres from Alston, including most of present-day Greenville, and built two flour mills – one in 1817 and one in 1829. McBee was a philanthropist and gave the land for the town’s first schools, colleges and churches.
In the 19th century, a variety of industries eventually clustered along the Reedy River. Those industries included an ironworks, the Gower, Cox, and Markley Coach Factory, a sawmill, a paper factory, an armory, as well as grist and corn mills.
In 1876, McBee’s heirs worked with three Massachusetts mill owners to open the water-powered Camperdown Mill, which produced yarn and gingham until 1956. The falls provided a power source for industry in the early 19th century. A variety of industries eventually clustered along the Reedy River, including an ironworks; the Gower, Cox and Markley Coach Factory; a sawmill; a paper factory and an armory, as well as grist and corn mills. A 27-acre mill village grew up on the hills surrounding the falls, complete with churches, mill store and recreation grounds. Whole families, often including children as young as 9 or 10, worked at the mills. They rented the mill houses for 50 cents a week per room; water and lights were supplied by the mill. The extension of Church Street in the late 1950s destroyed much of the once-extensive mill village.
In 1852, Furman Institution (now Furman University) bought the land. Three textile mills and a cotton warehouse operated in the early 1900s, all contributing to the pollution of the Reedy River.
In 1967, the Carolina Foothills Garden Club reclaimed 26 acres for the current park, with the support of the City of Greenville, Furman University and the Planning Commission. Over the next 40 years, the Garden Club and the City of Greenville have worked with individuals, corporations and state and federal agencies to further develop the park, clean up the river and restore the historic Falls Cottage. In 1990, landscape architect Andrea Mains introduced the concept of transforming the park into a regional attraction, with beautiful public gardens and a pedestrian bridge.