Irvin Pitts Park
Saluda River Natural Resources
Irvin Pitts Park is a corridor of land sandwiched between the Saluda River and a canal, which conducts water from the dam to the hydroelectric powerhouse that supplied electricity for Riegel textile mills and the village of Ware Shoals for most of the twentieth century.
In fact, the Saluda River was the natural resource that spawned the town of Ware Shoals.The dam, the mill and the town were born in the same year - 1902 - and the Ware Shoals Manufacturing Company (later renamed Riegel Textile Corporation) shaped the community and its citizens for more than 80 years until it closed in 1985.
All of the birds native to the upstate inhabit the area, including cranes, herons, ducks, geese, jays, crows, starlings, sparrows and various owls. Wild ducks are sometimes seen drifting with the current over the rapids; they seem to enjoy the experience as much as humans on inner tubes do.
Trees that are most commonly found in the park area and along the river are sycamores, several species of oak, sweet gums, persimmons, alders, and many river birches that typically are leaning languorously over the flowing waters.
Virginia creeper, a harmless five leaflet vine, grows in the area. Wile grape vines dangle from the upper limbs of some trees. Stands of wild canes appear along the river below the park.
The river flows for several hundred yards over water-sculptured granite outcrops or shoals, which, coupled with the name of the family that owned the land in the area, gave rise to the name of the community. Perhaps a hundred yards wide at points, the river can be crossed at low water by walking and jumping from one sinuously carved rock to another. The river is a deep as 15 to 30 feet at some points.
Lizards seen by the watchful observer are the five-lined skink or bluetail (from the royal blue tail sported by the males), the gray fence swift, and the Carolina green anole, which is sometimes miscalled the Carolina chameleon. While the anole usually appears in its lime green coloration and is capable of changing to shades of gray or brown, it is not a true chameleon.
Many different types of fish have been caught in the river, which has been a popular fishing locale since residents traveled there in covered wagons 200 years ago. These include small-mouthed, large-mouthed, striped and white bass. There also are white perch, bream, blue gills, channel catfish and, rarely, pike. Since 1981, the town of Ware Shoals has held the Catfish Festival during the last weekend of May that draws thousands of visitors to its town square. There was one report of a 60-pound catfish being caught.
There are several varieties of snakes, which inhabit the shoals' area/ Various water snakes inhabit the river, but none are venomous. The copperhead and highland moccasin is the only poisonous snake in the area, but it tries to avoid human contact if possible. Black rat snakes, coach whips, green snakes, and garter snakes are infrequently sighted but can be found by someone seeking them out.
Mammals living alongside the river include whitetail deer, raccoon, gray fox, opossum, gray squirrel and flying squirrel.
Many species of turtles such as the river cooters or soft shell are commonly seen sunning themselves stop the rocky shoals of the river. If you look closely you may also see snapping or monk "Stink pot" turtles in the water.
The Town and the River
A favorite spot for taking in the beauty of the area picnicking, wading and fishing, the banks of the Saluda River have drawn folks from the surrounding countryside for more than 200 years. The name of the owner of the nearby gristmill, Nicholas Ware, was combined with the river's shoals to create the name of Ware's Shoals, later shortened to Ware Shoals.
The town sprang to life because of its proximity to the Saluda River where Abbeville, Laurens and Greenwood Counties meet along South Carolina's Heritage Corridor.
The Town's Origins
The town of Ware Shoals and Ware Shoals Manufacturing Company (later renamed Riegel Textile Corporation) were born in the same year - 1902. Nat Dial of Laurens county started the river dam construction at the turn of the 20th Century as a means of powering his cotton plant. When Dial ran out of money, he turned to New Jersey businessman, Benjamin Riegel who bought the mill and completed the dam. At the same time, Riegel fathered a town.
The Mill's Role in the Town
The economic and social life of ware Shoals revolved around the mill for more than 80 years. Generations of Ware Shoals' families worked in the textile mill, and for many of them, this was the only job and way of life they would ever know. Once one of the largest textile manufacturing centers of the southeastern United States, Riegel Textile Corporation employed 5,000 people at its peak in 1960.
The mill closing in 1985 had a major impact on the town's 2,000 citizens and its economy. But Ware Shoals fought back and continued to prosper. The mill site has been the beneficiary of a $2,700,000 investment in cleanup efforts and redevelopment through the Brownfields Project. Ware Shoals was presented with the 2001 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 Rising Star Award.
Riegel Stadium was built in 1931 utilizing laborers from President Roosevelt's nation-wide job program. The stadium is most renowned for baseball. Through the decades, Riegel Stadium has hosted high school teams, textile leagues, Negro leagues, American Legion ball and even the big leagues. A 1954 exhibition game here showcased the Cincinnati Red Legs and the Washington Senators.
The Memorial Fountain in front of Katherine Hall was created in 1968 through the dedication of a number of local clubs to raise the needed funding and gifts donated as memorials to war veterans who worked at the mill.
The "Big Friendly"
Ware Shoals Town Hall is located in the former "Big Friendly," as the Riegel Textile Corporation's company store was known. Started as a one-room shanty in 1906, the "Big Friendly" became one of the finest and most modern department stores in the state after its new location was completed in 1920. Its motto, "You can buy in one store anything from a paper and pen to a Ford automobile, from a baby girl's rattle to her wedding dress" reflected the extent of the store's role in the community. The store closed in 1963.
Katherine Hall/The YMCA
Dedicated as the "Peoples' Amusement Hall," Katherine Hall was named for the Riegel's only child when it was built in 1913. Katherine Hall, the center for the mill workers to relax, has housed a wide spectrum of community activities ranging from a movie theater to the Senior Citizens Center.