After 2-year hiatus, thousands welcome back fireworks downtown at Greenville's Unity Park

·5 min read

Andria Sotir of Greenville had her bright red lipstick in hand and American flag hat on head as she scoped Unity Park for the best place for a group of 50.

She's been a member of a 45-65 singles meet-up group for almost 8 years and the holiday event Monday night was a perfect set up for the "dynamic" group.

Sotir always watches city fireworks but was excited for the new spacious venue this year.

Guests took the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at Greenville's Unity Park.  Andria Sotir of Greenville shows off her Red White and Blue cowboy hat with the colors of the flag.
Guests took the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at Greenville's Unity Park. Andria Sotir of Greenville shows off her Red White and Blue cowboy hat with the colors of the flag.

After two years of cancellations, downtown fireworks are back and at Greenville's newest 60-acre park.

People trickled into the park Monday afternoon carrying chairs, coolers and bags of picnic dinners as round, giant clouds helped block the July sun amid the 90 degree day.

By 9 p.m., thousands of people set up their place to watch the fireworks part of the evening at 9:45 p.m. The 246 Army Band played on the Prisma Health Welcome Center deck from 7:30-9 p.m.

Everything to know ahead of fireworks: Parking, closed streets, event information

Learn more: All the stories the Greenville News has published on Unity Park

Sgt. Jason Wakefield recently joined South Carolina's army band after traveling with Michigan's state band. He prepped his saxophone before walking on stage for the performance.

"These people, they're really like family to me," he said before walking out on the stage with the group of 28.

Guests took the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at Greenville's Unity Park.
Guests took the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at Greenville's Unity Park.

In 2021, The City of Greenville's "Red, White and Blue" festival was canceled due to construction at the event location. 

A launch site must meet rigorous safety requirements and the county square wouldn't work at the time, city spokesperson Beth Brotherton said last year.

In 2020, fireworks were canceled as the COVID-19 pandemic stopped nearly all events.

Unity Park, speckled in bridges, playgrounds, a splash pad and acres of grassy space, has seen plenty of activity since it opened in May.

The city spent millions in public money and private donations to restore the Reedy River and historic Mayberry Field.

Earlier in the afternoon, pairs of city police cars were parked around the park and along W. Washington St. to guide cars to parking. The trolley transported people from seven free nearby lots to the park.

Guests took the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at Greenville's Unity Park.  Jerry Brown of Anderson takes a break under a tree at the park.
Guests took the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at Greenville's Unity Park. Jerry Brown of Anderson takes a break under a tree at the park.

Christina and Jerry Brown of Anderson made a day of exploring downtown, shopping and reserved a shaded spot under a big tree right in the middle of the long stretch of grass.

Waiting on their daughter to join them later, the pair leaned back in their reclining chairs as a soft breeze relieved the heat after eating tacos for lunch. They planned to sample the food trucks for dinner.

As a kid, Jerry Brown played baseball for Travelers Rest High in the field right next to Unity Park.

"I love it, it's different," he said, now at 63 and retired. He gestured to the large crowd forming, "it brought in so many."

After years of small gatherings and staying inside, it was nice seeing that many kids and families enjoying time outside together, Christina Brown said.

Food trucks lined the road across from the Commons as lines started to get longer by 6:30 p.m.

Guests took the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at Greenville's Unity Park.  Rachel Williams, 30, who just moved to Travelers Rest, hangs a flag in a tree near the spot her family will gather.
Guests took the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at Greenville's Unity Park. Rachel Williams, 30, who just moved to Travelers Rest, hangs a flag in a tree near the spot her family will gather.

Rachel Williams, 30, was meandering an American Flag through branches of a tree where she set up chairs and a picnic dinner behind with her two sons and husband.

Williams just moved to Travelers Rest from Indiana six weeks ago after her husband got a remote job.

In their short time in the area, she's been to the new park multiple times with her boys, age 5 and 3, who were running around in their swim suits freshly cooled from the splash pad.

Subs from Publix was the meal of choice for the evening with back-up fireworks stashed at home in case the boys' nap didn't do the trick.

The splash pad was full all afternoon and groups continued to pour in ahead of the later evening hours.

Guests took the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at Greenville's Unity Park.  Miracle Gould, 6, of Greenville dressed in Red White and Blue eats her treat at the park.
Guests took the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at Greenville's Unity Park. Miracle Gould, 6, of Greenville dressed in Red White and Blue eats her treat at the park.

Miracle Gould was licking off all the bright red frosting from a cupcake while her mom ran to the car to grab an umbrella just in case a few more rain drops came later in the night.

"It's sunny over there," she said pointing to the long rays breaking through the grey clouds.

Her older sister and grandma smiled at her bright red lips from only eating the frosting, of course.

Chantel Rankin, her sister, had a giant cooler ready with cool drinks and snacks for the evening to keep everyone happy, especially her 7-month old, Aurora.

Rankin previously lived in Sumter and was excited for her first Greenville summer.

Across the field near the bridge, Andria Sotir found the perfect spot for her large group and was already making it festive with flags around their chairs.

"I think it's absolutely beautiful," she said of the new park.

Just before the 20-minutes of colorful fireworks took everyone's attention, one small heart of candles in the middle of the park was the center of many cheers and tears and one important phrase:

"She said yes!"

Guests took the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at Greenville's Unity Park.  Arthur Taylor asked Dyesha Freeman to marry him at the park.
Guests took the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at Greenville's Unity Park. Arthur Taylor asked Dyesha Freeman to marry him at the park.

Family, friends and strangers all looked to the middle of field as Dyesha Freeman said yes to Arthur Taylor.

"There's a lot of love in the air, and I wanted to make it official with her," Taylor said. "We've been together for 15 years, we got three beautiful kids and our life is stable and just happy. I just wanted to make it so she's happy for the rest of her life."

And besides a bit of traffic to get out of downtown, that tied the knot on Unity Park's first July Fourth.

Sarah Sheridan is the community reporter in Anderson. She'd appreciate your help telling important stories; reach her at ssheridan@gannett.com or on twitter @saralinasher.

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: 4th of July in Greenville, SC: Unity Park hosts fireworks, music