It’s been a while – like, 20-plus years – since I lived and worked in the Observer’s former Rock Hill bureau.
I liked a lot about this city back then – from the inexpensive living, to the walkability of the area, to the attractive Winthrop University campus. This part of York County, about a 30-mile drive from uptown Charlotte, has long won over newcomers, long-timers and natives for its schools, tax rates and quality of life.
I took a throwback tour recently, and see I’ve missed out on some big changes. Two areas in particular are drawing a lot of attention:
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What’s new? Homes and a scenic trail.
They’re both at Riverwalk, a 1,000-acre mixed-use development taking shape near Cherry Road and Interstate 77. When completed, plans call for the community to include a variety of homes and neighborhoods, shops, eateries and office spaces.
New houses and some retail is there, including Grapevine, a Fort Mill-founded wine and beer bar. And there’s The Pump House, the riverfront restaurant in the reconstructed former pump house that served the Celanese manufacturing plant.
At the riverfront, pick up the Piedmont Medical Center Trail, a 4.5-mile round trip paved stretch shared by walkers, runners and bicyclists. Watch the kayakers on the water, or sit on a bench to take in the sounds and view. A reassuring touch on the trail: yellow ovals giving your numeric location in case you need to call 911.
Within Riverwalk, a bit away from the water, there’s the Rock Hill Outdoor Center, with 250 acres of cycling venues, athletic fields and a kayak and canoe launch.
Downtown Rock Hill
At one time, a roof stretched over the historic buildings in downtown, creating what was then called TownCenter Mall.
I came to Rock Hill a year after the roof came off, which was in 1993. By removing it, the idea was to create more of a open and sunny destination area, but the move instead left behind a sleepy Main Street.
You wouldn’t know that now. The downtown area is a vibrant stretch of streets, with colorful banners on street lights and a variety of businesses and entities, from Newsstand Records & Books, with vinyl albums for sale, to McHale’s Irish Pub, to the Main Street Children’s Museum.
The mix includes Millstone Pizza and Taphouse, which serves local beers including brews from Rock Hill’s Legal Remedy Brewing Co.
Inside the historic First Citizens Bank building, there’s a technology incubator launching and growing companies that are encouraged to keep their ventures in Rock Hill.
And there are some familiar finds for Charlotteans: On the first floor of the bank building, there’s Amelie’s, the Charlotte-based French bakery.
For another Charlotte food connection, there’s Food Truck Friday in downtown Rock Hill’s Fountain Park, featuring some of the Queen City-based mobile meal vendors.
With lots to see and do in this lively area, I’ll plan on returning sooner rather than later.
Other notable things about Rock Hill...
▪ Catawba Indian Nation: Based southeast of Rock Hill along the banks of the Catawba River, the Catawba Nation is the only federally recognized tribe in South Carolina, with nearly 3,000 members.
▪ Cherry Park: This 68-acre softball and baseball facility hosts regional and national tournaments.
▪ Glencairn Gardens: This 11-acre park near downtown showcases azaleas, dogwoods and more. Its flowery walkways and ponds are the inspiration behind the city’s annual Come-See-Me Festival.
▪ Museum of York County: Features exhibits that celebrate the Carolina Piedmont and its connections to the world. Includes the Settlemyre Planetarium www.chmuseums.org/myco
▪ Lunch counter history: In 1961, nine black students from Friendship Junior College were arrested for sitting at the whites-only lunch counter at a store in downtown Rock Hill. Officials erased the convictions in 2015.
▪ Growth: Nearly 70,000, according to 2014 U.S. Census estimate data, up from 41,643 in 1990.
▪ Neighbors: The town of Fort Mill (population 13,662, according to 2016 census estimates) and city of Tega Cay (9,120, according to 2014 estimates).
..and about York County:
▪ Population: More than 245,000 residents, according to 2015 census estimates.
▪ Historic Brattonsville: This 775-acre living history farm in McConnells, S.C., holds more than 30 structures reflecting the Revolutionary War era. www.chmuseums.org.
▪ Anne Springs Close Greenway: This 2,100-acre recreation and education site in Fort Mill bears the name of the matriarch of South Carolina's Springs textile family. ascgreenway.org
Celeste Smith is the editor of Living Here.