Restoring the garden's restoring the majesty

Dean Walker with Rock Hill Parks, Recreation and Tourism cuts grass at Glencairn Garden near the popular fountain.
Dean Walker with Rock Hill Parks, Recreation and Tourism cuts grass at Glencairn Garden near the popular fountain.

John Hardin, former mayor of Rock Hill, was driving to work one day, past the lovely Charlotte Avenue garden of Hazel Bigger and her late husband, Dr. David Bigger.

"It happened to hit me, as I was riding by the garden, that maybe it was too much burden for her," recalls Hardin, 87. So the then-mayor stopped by Hazel's home to talk.

Harden suggested that Bigger, who had no heirs, might consider selling the garden to the city of Rock Hill for $30,000, payable over 10 years. She agreed, and they struck a deal that day.

That was nearly 50 years ago, in 1958, and Hazel Bigger died soon after, leaving Glencairn Garden to the city. It quickly became a tourist attraction, drawing busloads of visitors.

Glencairn fell on hard times in recent years, as the plantings aged and costly maintenance failed to keep up with the needs. But big plans are in the works to change that.

The Vernon Grant performance stage, a circular brick area in the garden's center -- donated by the Grant family in memory of the late illustrator -- is expected to be completed in weeks, and plans are to christen it with a fall performance event.

And a city development committee has been in the silent phase of a major capital campaign to raise money for long-range garden improvements. A membership program, to generate funds for garden maintenance, also is underway.

"We are looking for it to become a year-round destination for people," said Harold Peeples, chairman of Rock Hill's Glencairn Garden advisory committee. "Have Glencairn once again become a crown jewel, a place to visit in Rock Hill."

The development committee, chaired by Sherry Martin, aims to raise at least $1 million of the conservatively estimated $10 million to $12 million that it's expected to cost the city to renovate and expand the six-acre garden. That includes landscaping an added three to four acres already owned by the city.

Martin said committee members have already raised more than $200,000 for capital improvements to Glencairn, with $100,000 or more in donations pending.

"We want the community to embrace the project," Martin said. "We would like to be on the map of the region, like Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden."

The master plan for the garden's improvement was originally drawn by the late South Carolina landscape architect Robert Marvin.

"This was his first big project," Hardin said of Robert Marvin, whose designs include the governor's mansion in Columbia and the Sibley Center at Callaway Gardens in Georgia.

Future garden plans include two new terraced display gardens, a second pond, a memorial meadow, a pavilion, an outdoor classroom, a cascading water feature and new trails.

The timetable for full completion is uncertain, because the effort depends on local support, but changes are expected to unfold over 10 to 12 years.

Martin said fundraisers are seeking sponsors for major capital improvements. Those committed so far include Hardin, recognized in the naming of two greeting circles, the Grant family, which donated money for the performance stage, and the Albright family, honored with a plaque at the main entrance, named for the late C.H. "Icky" Albright and his wife, Sophie.

South Carolina Bank & Trust of the Piedmont has signed on as a lifetime sponsor, and Founders Federal Credit Union has sponsored one of two relaxation gardens.

Martin said organizers plan to offer public programming in all four seasons -- not just during Come-See-Me or in warm weather. "As the garden grows, our programs are going to grow."

Some improvements have already been made. The Bigger House on Crest Street, where the Biggers lived, has been renovated and converted into offices for Come-See-Me. The house, surrounded by a new brick patio, will be available for groups to rent for receptions, parties and other occasions.

And renovations are underway on the former United Way headquarters on Edgemont Avenue, which will serve as an environmental education classroom, offices and a maintenance facility. Martin said it could be the site of children's events, gardening seminars and other activities.

Those who want to contribute to ongoing maintenance can purchase annual garden memberships for $25 to $1,000 each. "As the garden grows, so will our maintenance needs," Martin said.

Hardin said he's pleased that Rock Hill is again making Glencairn Garden a priority. "It was a great drawing card there for five or 10 years after we got it," he said. "And it will be again."

Glencairn Garden annual membership levels are $25, $50, $100, $250, $500 and $1,000. Funds will be used for ongoing maintenance of the garden. They can be purchased through the Rock Hill Parks Foundation by mailing to Rock Hill PRT, P.O. Box 11706, Rock Hill, SC 29731.

For more information, visit and click on Rock Hill Parks Foundation.

For details on making a major capital contribution, contact development committee chair Sherry Martin at 366-5607.