The wayside signs along the Saluda Riverwalk do a great job of telling the history and ecology of the water and land along the park, but those signs can’t answer all of your questions.
For instance, what’s up with those red metal things on the flat section of rocks north of the main parking area?
Until a few months ago, they squatted on the rocks like a cross between oversized ashtrays and undersized garbage can. Recently, the city parks staff filled them in with cement to prevent people from using them for either of those purposes.
As you might have guessed, they are the remnants of a pier built out over the rocks half a century ago. Back then, Frank Powell owned a big chunk of the riverfront property along the dirt road that ran parallel to the water. His family built a house on the property and used it mainly as a weekend getaway spot for years. (This was several years before the zoo was built.)
His 12-year-old daughter liked to venture out on the rocks to bask in the sun. One day when the river rose quickly, she found herself stranded on the rocks and had to be rescued. Powell, who later was elected Richland County sheriff, decided to hire a contractor to build a pier over the rocks to make enjoying the river safer for his family.
The red metal cuffs anchored wooden telephone pole supports for the pier. A series of suspension bridges led from the house high on the river ridge to the deck of the pier. (Regulations must have been less restrictive back then. It’s hard to imagine a permit to build such a private structure being approved today on a navigable river.)
The Powell’s eventually sold the property, and the bridges and pier were allowed to deteriorate. The skeleton of the structure remained, and kayak and canoe paddlers for decades used it as a landmark. “We’ll stop at the red pier to eat lunch.” Or, “We’ll wait for you at the red pier before heading downstream.”
In later years, the color faded to a shade of orange, but people still referred to it as the red pier. Eventually, floods and park maintenance left only the metal cuffs. They, however, are anchored in the rocks to stay. Removing them might require dynamite. While that (sort of) worked for the old mill dam more than a century ago, the process created a mess (and the Millrace Rapids). Better to just leave the footings, paint them bright red to make them easily visible, and fill them in to remove the temptation to use them as garbage cans.
By the way, Powell’s daughter who prompted the building of the red pier was named Candi. Yep, she was the namesake of the road that once led to their property and now leads to the Saluda Riverwalk.
(I wrote about this niche of local history for The State. The story ran on Sept. 7, 2010, if you want more details and have access to the newspaper archives.)