Memories of Echo Valley

Echo Valley from the Ridge

In the northern part of Greenville County the Middle Saluda River flows across a long flat valley. Where Highways 276 and 11 come together, and where the Saluda crosses this road, one finds the community of Cleveland, South Carolina. The valley now hosts a post office, convenience store, and a couple of other businesses, but at one time an exciting amusement park occupied this same spot.

It was the late 1960’s and I was seven or eight years old. Dad and Mom loaded five of us (my two oldest siblings were in college) into the Chrysler and we headed toward the Great Smokey Mountains. It was a fantastic trip up through the mountains of North Carolina, with stops at Pisgah National Forest, Maggie Valley, and eventually Gatlinburg, Tennessee. That was the trip that we visited Echo Valley, a Western-styled theme park along the banks of the Saluda River in Cleveland, South Carolina.

Echo Valley Ticket

During this time Western theme parks were all the rage in North Carolina. There was Ghost Town in the Sky in Maggie Valley, Frontierland in Cherokee, and Tweetsie Railroad in Boone. Most of these featured a Wild West town with regular shoot-outs and the endless conflicts between cowboys and Indians. There were also carnival rides and can-can dancers to round out the bill. Echo Valley followed this same pattern, and was developed to capture some of that Wild West market for Greenville audiences.

The late Melvin Jarrard was postmaster of the Cleveland post office and a local businessman. In his autobiography The Mountaineer of Cleveland, South Carolina, Jarrad describes how Harry Stuart brought the idea of Echo Valley to the area, and how that idea had originated with Ghost Town in the Sky.

One day in 1964 Harry came in and began talking to me about his proposal to build a recreation park at Cleveland. In the meantime, between the time I knew him and then, he had left Darlington and went up to Maggie Valley. It was his idea to build Ghost Town up on that mountain. A certain man from Orangeburg [Ronald Braxton "RB" Coburn] came up and spent about a week with him, according to what he told me. While he was sitting in the rocking chair on the porch one night, Harry told the man that there was a gold mine sitting there in that mountain. The man asked him what he was talking about and he explained his idea for Ghost Town. He said that people would come in from everywhere to visit a park like that.

This man liked the idea and stayed over until the next day. They walked up the mountain because there was no road there then, and he told Harry he would help finance it if Harry would build it. So that winter they started building about Harry put all the money he had into it, which wasn’t very much, but this man seemed to be very wealthy. While they were building it that winter it began to snow and sleet. Harry told me he began to be afraid of his own project then and said he hoped they didn’t lose all they owned. This man told Harry if he wanted out he would buy him out and that is what he did.

During his involvement with Ghost Town Stuart had purchased several miles of small-gauge rail from the Greenville and Northern Railway (AKA The Swamp Rabbit Railroad) to create the train tracks for Ghost Town. After his stint with that amusement park, Stuart approached a group of investors, including Jarrad, to see about replicating Ghost Town in the Cleveland area, incorporating the abandoned Swamp Rabbit rails into the park as one of the rides.

An old band mill site was purchased along the tracks that bordered the Saluda River. The tracks were rebuilt to create a nine mile circuit. Steam Engine 110 was purchased from the old G&N Railroad, and several cabooses were converted into open-air cars.

Engine 110Swamp Rabbit RailroadSwamp Rabbit with Cowboy and Indian

In addition to the train there was the western town complete with saloon, stores, and a few carnival rides. A chairlift took passengers up over Echo Lake and up to Echo Ridge for a view of the valley, then back down.

Echo Valley Chairlift

The major attraction in the town was the daily shoot-outs. Mr. and Mrs. David Bailey worked at the park, and this is how Mrs. Bailey remembered the daily routine when interviewed by some Northwest Middle School students:

The cowboys would wait for the train to get to a designated point at which they would rob it and steal the gold. They would then get on horses and ride away from the train into the town, where they would come in and be shooting. The sheriff would come out and have a shoot-out with one of them, and they would play dead. Then the undertaker would go out and drag him off, and then the mourners would come out and mourn. Some would be captured and be taken to a a mock hanging. They would shoot the rope, and they would all ride off.

Echo Valley gunfightEcho Valley Shoot OutEcho Valley gunfight 2

When she wasn’t working in one of the park’s stores, Mrs. Bailey would play one of the mourners in the skits.

But back to our visit in the 1960’s …

Apparently my brother Stephen got into trouble for climbing up onto the hanging gallows for a photograph. He was scolded by some park official over the loudspeaker, which caused no small amount of embarrassment for both he and my father. I think that cut our visit to the park short, and may be why I don’t remember that much about the visit. My dad made some comment about having a shorter temper back then when I asked him about the incident.

Which brings us to the issue of bumper stickers…

It was the practice of these tourist places to put bumper stickers for the park on any vehicle parked on their lot, whether you wanted them or not. I had cousins that had visited Ghost Town, Ruby Falls, and other places, and had come back with these mementos of exotic places. I was jealous, and wanted proof that I, too, had visited such a place. When we got back to the car, sure enough, there was an Echo Valley bumper sticker. My dad immediately removed it, saying that he didn’t want it to damage the car. I think the gallows/loudspeaker incident also had something to do with his haste to remove it.

Eventually on that trip we did make it to Maggie Valley and Ghost Town. The only way to get to the park was via the inclined railway, which didn’t look safe enough for my mother, or the chair lift, which looked even more precarious. The ultimate undoing, though, was the cost. It would have cost $48 for admission for the seven of us, which was a princely sum back then. We would have to live with our memories of Echo Valley and its western town instead, and would have no bumper sticker as proof.

The park only lasted four seasons, from 1964 to 1968. According to Melvin Jarrard, it just couldn’t make any money.

…Every time we took in a little money we had to pay it on land bills and were never able to expand. We didn’t have Highway 11 at that time so we didn’t have the traffic that we have today to boost our business.

After four years we closed up because we just couldn’t make any money out of it. We would have probably gotten into financial trouble, but we had several people on the board who had money and extended loans to the park. We finally sold out, paid all the bills, and liquidated everything. We did lose some money on our stock, though.

If you visit Echo Valley today there’s not even a bumper sticker to give a hint as to what had been there. All of the old buildings are gone. The chapel was moved to Table Rock State Park, but eventually torn down due to termites…

Echo Valley Chapel

…and Swamp Rabbit Engine 110 was sold to Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta. What you will find is a modern post office, convenience store, feed store, and music hall.

Echo ValleyEcho ValleyEcho ValleyEcho Valley Music Park

However, if you look closely, you might find something of the old park. In Google Earth one can see the old Echo Lake and can maybe make out the path of the railroad along the edge of the field…

Echo Valley Google Earth 2005

… next to the Saluda River Bridge a pathway marks where the Swamp Rabbit continued up to River Falls…

Swamp Rabbit Remnants

However, the most poignant reminder is a concrete block that served as a base for the chair lift that once took visitors over the ridge for a view of Echo Valley. It sits alone, visible in the middle of what is left of Echo Lake.

Chair Lift Remnants

Bibliography:

Echoes – “Memories of Echo Valley”
Published by Northwest Middle School, Faith Printing
1998
http://www.greenville.k12.sc.us/northwst/echoes/v14.asp

The Mountaineer of Cleveland, South Carolina
Autobiography of Melvin Lee Jarrard
1996

Photographs of Poncho, the Gunslinger at Echo Valley from Pickens County Library

Special thanks to Rulinda Price of the South Carolina Room at Greenville County Library.

One final note – If you are doing an Internet search for information on Echo Valley, be forewarned if you use the search terms “Echo Valley” and “South Carolina.” Apparently there is a porn star with the stage name “Echo Valley” who was born in Columbia, South Carolina. Rule 34 strikes again.

http://books.google.com/books?id=KPeqHAAACAAJ&dq=The+mountaineer+of+cleveland,+south+carolina&ei=kb2PS4WDEZ7WMNm30McM&cd=1

UPDATE: Here are links to the infamous photographs taken by my father on our trip. The first link has photographs of me and my older brother, and the second link has general photos.

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Comments (31)

  1. Joyce McCarrell

    Tom,

    What a wonderful recapturing of that time! Thanks for that research!

    Reply
    1. Joe Heaton

      We visited Echo Valley one summer in 67? My dad was in the USAF and we were home from Puerto Rico visiting my Grandparents and cousins. My Aunt Sarah took us there for the day. I remember riding the train and the robbers grabbed my sisters purse. The sheriff shot him on the spot giving her back her purse. We got off the train and the robbers were caught and were hung right there in the center of town, but they were rescued Clint Eastwood style by shooting the hangman’s rope thereby escaping on horses.

      It was a beautiful setting. I have hence searched for this place for years only to find it this year. Only a convenience store remains.

      Reply
  2. Ken C

    Tom, that was a really fascinating post. Well written and researched. Thanks. Didn’t know much at all about Echo Valley. Maybe a separate post on the SC – born porn star? :-) Or not.

    Reply
  3. carol i

    This piece is great. Got me wanting to read the Jarrad autobiography. I rode the chair lift at Ghost Town and dropped my indian head dress to the ground, but still had a pocket full of gem stones from the mine.

    Reply
  4. Keith Wilson

    I remember Echo Valley. I rode the chair lift and the train. Also remember my Daddy peeling off the bumper stickers. Man was he mad! I live in Asheboro NC but every chance I get I go back and look at the old cement block that reminds me of days gone by, and of some good entertainment. Man that was the good ole days!!

    Reply
  5. Janet

    I worked the first summer it was open, it was a fun place to work. We all would go on the last train ride of the day.

    Reply
  6. Linda Moon Runser

    Thank you for sharing this information. I remember how excited I was to visit Echo Valley for the first time. We had visited Cedar Point (Ohio) and was expecting the same type of park. It was not, but, it was wonderful just the same. I had a cousin who worked there during the summer and it was fun seeing him in some of the skits. It is such a shame that it could not endure.

    Reply
  7. Carter Jarrard

    I grew up just down the road from Cleveland, SC and Echo Valley Park. I was away in school most of the time the park was being built and operating, but did enjoy visiting it once with my girl friend who later became my wife. We have a picture that was taken of us on the chair lift going over the lake. I remember that the train passed by my Dad’s pasture a few mile down the road. The only summer that I was home when the park was operating, I remember being over at my Dad’s barn near the tracks and hearing gun fire coming from the “train robbers” just up the hill from the barn. That time seems so long ago but yet like it was just yesterday.

    Reply
  8. Susan Wilson Bidinger

    I can remember the park also…the train ride, the shootouts…it brings back memories of my Mother and I taking my Nephew and Niece there…being from a Rail Road Family…makes me a little home sick and makes we want to hear that whistle blow and think of the sweet people I went to school with and they as well as the Park will hold dear to my heart and I won’t forget them. I live on the Coast now so the mountains and trout streams still make me realize how much that area means to me. Thank you for the write ups.

    Reply
  9. Ray Mcneely

    The Cowboy and the Indian in front of the train. The Cowboy is Ray Mcneely Sheriff of Echo Valley and the Indian is a real Cherokee Indian from the reservation. His name is Johnny Lasee.

    Reply
    1. Tom (Post author)

      Ray – thanks for the update. It’s great to be able to put a name with the faces in these photographs.

      Reply
  10. Doyle S.

    My dad [John Simmons] helped to maintain the steam
    locomotive at Echo Valley at it’s prime time.

    Reply
  11. Doyle S.

    My dad [John Simmons] helped to maintain the steam
    locomovetive at it’s time of operation at Echo Valley.

    Reply
  12. Angel Stegeall

    Thanks so much for this post! My dad and I were talking at lunch today about Echo Valley (although Im only 28 years old and Echo Valley had come and gone long before I was born…lol) and when I got back to work I googled Echo Valley and came across your post. Such a great read! Melvin was my great grandfather and it was so exciting to see you quote his book! Thanks again!

    Reply
  13. Ricky K. Edwards

    I too remember the old park. My Aunt lived in Anderson, S.C. We spent a day at the park. I have a small wooden toy plane with Echo Valley burned into the wing that I managed to talk my Dad into buying. Not doing anything
    with the plane. Will donate to good home if anyone collects.

    Reply
    1. mike

      you bet! i would love to have a collectable from Echo Valley.

      do you still have it?

      Reply
  14. Lynn Schmid

    I grew up in Clemson. When I was about 9 or 10 I remember going up to that Park. They were
    so nice. My littlest sister wanted to go on the train with the rest of us so they told my brother that if he would hold her the whole time they would let her go. I still remember driving around down into the valley to park and that we had a picnic next to the stream. I moved to Texas,
    New Orleans, and Ohio through the years. Now I have moved back to S.C. and live only a few miles from Echo Valley. I take groups of children on recreational outings and always stop at the Echo Valley Store and take them behind the store to see the animals and tell them about the Park that used to be there. I did not know it had just closed down , I always guessed that it had flooded in the area and messed up the Park. I am glad that was not the reason for
    the closing. I tell my husband about the Park and he kinda acts like maybe I have just
    forgotten where the Park really was. Now I can show him your post. Thanks.

    Reply
  15. Phil Adcock

    I was a member of the trio that sang in the saloon and were bartenders during the summer of 1965. I was only 16 years old that summer and the other two members were a year younger. We had no car so we lived in the saloon the entire summer. I remember Dave Bailey very well. I also remember Johnny, the Cherokee Indian. My friend Jack and I were just discussing Echo Valley this past weekend and I drove by it on Hwy 11. It was a summer we will never forget and am amazed that our parents allowed us to live there at that age. Those were different times. Thank you for this post, it helped bring back some wonderful memories.

    Reply
  16. Heidi Ross

    I have wonderful memories of Echo Valley as my father, Carl Riedel, ran the Gun and Saddle Shop there. The stories I could tell….like the time during a shoot-out when my dad was supposed to shoot the bad guy off a roof and his gun wouldn’t fire. The guy on the roof threw down his gun, dad shot him with his own gun and he finish his stunt. It was hilarious! One more…My big brother, Edwin Riedel, was the young sheriff who escorted the train robbers from the train to the jail! I got to ride in the caboose with “Montana Murphy”. Thank you so much for bringing these memories back. They’re coming in waves now!

    Reply
  17. Sue Ballard Hilton

    My dad was one of the original investors, and I worked in the Camera Shop in the summer of 1964 — our family spent a lot of time up there for several years while they worked really hard to make a go of the park! There were other teenagers working there too which made it a lot of fun if you were one! Great memories of the gun fights, saloon show, and the last train ride of the day! Thank you so much for helping bring back these memories!

    Reply
  18. Charla

    Does anyone remember other amusements in Maggie Valley? I spent many summers at Lake Junaluski during the 60’s and 70’s. I almost 50. I went to everything in that area Cherokee Frontierland, Santa Land, Ghost Town etc. Great memories. I am looking for some who remembers a bunch of mini houses that closed down in the 70’s. We went there in late 60’s and in 70’s there was one house left in an overgrown field. Doing research for a book. Thanks so much.

    Reply
  19. Johnny Cole

    I was at Miracle Hill and we went to Echo Valley,sad that’s just a memory now.

    Reply
  20. Tommy

    Didn’t part of the place get washed away in a big flood that struck there, I remember seeing a photo of where the train engine had been washed off the tracks?

    Reply
  21. frank auten

    Found this site thru Denton Farmpark ….denton nc Our handy dandy railroad engine ( now # 9 ) runs each 4 th July week @ southeast old threshers reunion ,,,,,,,,,,, largest collection of working steam power around..During Christmas come on up and enjoy gimger bread cookies cooked on a wood stove and have the best train ride ever all in the Sprit of our Lord ! God bless Yall

    Reply
    1. Philip Stegall

      I remember the Echo Valley Park. Parker High School owned a camp near by. James Senn was the PHS band director. I was a member of the Berea HS band. The PHS and BHS bands would go to camp at the same time in the summer. Jim McMahan was the BHS director at that time. I think of band camp quite often but had forgotten about the Echo Valley Park. I miss the people and the times.

      Reply
  22. John

    My dad put the some of the plumbing in echo Valley. I was young and helping him. Got to ride train and the chair lift before opened. I think I was the first person to ride chair lift besides the people installing.They were testing it

    Reply
  23. Gary Harris

    The park closed when I was 7 years old but I can still remember it, I remember the chair lift hanging there for what seemed like years after the park closed. I have a color photo taken from the chair lift that is actually from a postcard but shows a lot of detail including The 110 Cliffside or(Swamp Rabbit)engine, the pontoons,people,etc. I would love to share this photo if anyone is interested. this is a part of our history that needs not be forgotten.

    Reply
    1. Tom (Post author)

      Gary – if you have a way to upload it, I would be happy to link to it here. If not, we can work out a way for you to get it to me via e-mail.

      Thanks!

      Reply
      1. Gary Harris

        Would be more than happy to via e-mail.

        Reply
        1. Tom (Post author)

          Check your inbox for instructions. Thanks!

          Reply
  24. Pingback: One Building, Two Parks, and Many Echoes Later | a PostCard minute

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