Pacolet Amphitheater

On Sundays, I like to find little excursions. Places to visit when I have the time to amble around and really pay attention to what I find.  That can’t always happen on a busy Saturday when everyone is out and about.  

Usually, I like to find somewhere that has something a little unusual so that The Dane and I can take photographs and experiment with depth and composition. 

Sometimes, I look on pinterest or ask my co-workers what’s around that I might not have heard of since I’m not from around here.  In this way, I found out about Hollywild and the Pelzer Light People

In fairness, I knew Pacolet existed.  I’ve been through there hundreds of times.  Several times, The Dane and I have been there to look at the mill villages, as it is a beautiful place to take pictures of the homes with all the many colors, like those you’d find in Charleston (the colors, not the homes).  The town itself is a bit sad (though I love riding down that twisted road that can barely be seen to the left of the photograph below).

Pacolet is a shadow of its former glory.  When textile left the South, it took away the heart of lots of thriving small towns, including my own hometown in Georgia.  When I go to Pacolet, I feel their loss. 

In town, there’s a big granite map on the wall.  I like to stop there and then go explore the neighborhoods looking for the spots where the old mills used to be. 

It’s a no-brainer that in the early years along the riverbed there must have been plentiful hunting for the Cherokee and Catawba Indians. There was also an abundance of soapstone, which is a soft stone that can be easily carved to make storage vessels such as bowls.  We saw some examples of these bowls at the museum.

We learned that not much changed about the area until around 1750, when Europeans began to settle and grow corn. They called the area, “Buzzard’s Roost.”  They built little grits mills along the water’s edge using the water as a power supply to grind the corn.

At some point, the River became known as the Pacolet (pronounce either PAK * let or PAK * uh * let) River.  The town of Buzzard’s Roost soon followed and changed its name to Pacolet as well.

There are a few stories floating abound about the word Pacolet. Some believe that it is a French term meaning “swift messenger,” which is believed to have been given to the river because it is very fast. It’s believable as the water does travel pretty quickly. The other story is that the name Pacolet is derived from a Cherokee word meaning “horse.”  (I like that one)

During the 19th century, Pacolet boomed because of the textile industry. (In the 1950s, a water dispute cut the town into four villages: Pacolet Station, Pacolet Mills, Central Pacolet and Pacolet Park. In 1997, Pacolet Station and Pacolet Mills merged as Pacolet. Central Pacolet still exists, but Pacolet Park has been gone since the mid-70’s.)

In 1903, tragedy struck.

It had been raining for days, heavy downpours that caused the river to swell and rise.  Early the morning of June 6th, a big three-story mill known as No. 1 went down. The next to go was No. 2, a four-story standing next to where No. 1 had been. Several hours later No. 3 – about a 1/4 of a mile away and by far the largest mill – went down. I saw in one of the articles that the water rose 20 feet above normal levels.  (I do know that people around the Pacolet area still talk about “the flood” and can show you water marks in some places).

By the time the waters stopped rushing, six miles of property had been destroyed including the 6 mills, 60 to 70 homes, bridges, churches, businesses, and thousands of bales of cotton. It is estimated that somewhere between 50 and 70 people lost their lives.

The people of Pacolet rebuilt their community. By 1907, Pacolet Mill was the largest manufacturer in the South.

In 1924, I suppose a boon time in Pacolet, the amphitheater was built. It seats 2,500 people and overlooks the Pacolet River.  I couldn’t find a lot of information about the amphitheater really.  It’s a curious sort of place.  It brings to mind a football stadium, but it doesn’t appear that the grounds would have been used for that, though who knows how they may have looked in times gone by.

It closed in 1960 except for the annual holiday lights they hold there (I’ve never been at that time of year). Twenty years later in 1980, the mills followed suit.

As I wandered along the broken granite seats, I tried to imagine how the people who came here might have been dressed.  In my mind’s eye, I pictured different eras of people in period clothing, all the way from flapper dresses to hip-hugging, flared-legged hippies.

The Dane gathered up the camera and headed down the stairs toward the bottom.  I stayed at the top watching as a couple entered the track and began walking.  Behind me, a rusty gate creaked open and shut, sending chills up my spine.  A gust of wind swirled leaves in front of me.  I pulled my coat a little tighter.  As I sat there enjoying what was one of the few truly cold days we’ve had this winter, I thought about how much I love finding places like this to visit.  Looking around, I understood that the place is in very bad repair, but it somehow makes me hopeful that some new life might find its way back into the place.

A few days later, The Dane and I heard about a group making an effort to try to restore it.  Here’s the newscast if you’re interested.

Thanks for stopping by today.  Hope you enjoy the photos.  (It looks like two different seasons because some of these photos were taken in July).

~PJ

Sources:

Dress – Torrid; Jacket – Old Navy; Shoes – Anne Klein; Jewelry – Cato.

 

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