Dr. Carolyn Styles, Principal at Skyland Elementary School, welcomed (from left to right) Gabriel Gallion, Evan Bunnell, Abigail Miller, Kaeleigh Ware, Jesus Ortega and Ashlyn Fulkerson back inside the school building last Thursday afternoon.Alan Pittman

Welcome to my side of town: Blue Ridge

Julie Holcombe's picture
By: 
Julie Holcombe

Blue Ridge is a community defined not by geographical boundaries, but by the pride of the people who call it home.

Noted for its rural landscape and mountain views, addresses in the area can span Taylors, Greer, or even Tigerville. However, ask any local and they can tell you exactly where they are from.

“I don’t think there is a drawn boundary,” said Dr. Carolyn Styles, Blue Ridge native and principal of Skyland Elementary School. “I think it’s elusive, that boundary, but if you live in Blue Ridge, you know exactly where that boundary is. Those who live in Blue Ridge, claim Blue Ridge. When you get to the boundary, and someone says, I’m from Greer, you know that you have passed from the Blue Ridge zone into the Greer zone. It’s not even a zip code, but we all know that we’re from Blue Ridge, and we’re proud of it.”

“I grew up in Tigerville,” she said. “I transitioned through the Blue Ridge High School. My entire life, I’ve been in the Blue Ridge community. There’s a lot of pride associated with that.”

Into the light
Once thought of solely as a backwoods spot in the road, the area is now receiving national attention, thanks in part to high-performing schools that have shattered some of the perceptions from the past.

“Another reason that I am really proud of being a Blue Ridge girl is because Blue Ridge is an area that has transformed over time,” Styles said. “It once was a place that was called the Dark Corner of South Carolina. It was a place where there was low education and where often the law was by your shotgun in your home. People had a sense of their own law in this area.”

“When I graduated from college, I always said I was going to move away from Blue Ridge, and I was going to go to a big city and experience life somewhere else, but when I graduated, it didn’t take me very long to realize that I’m rooted here; I’m rooted in this community; this is where I belong. I think there’s a true sense of belonging for those of us who consider ourselves as Blue Ridge.”

Styles decided to come back into her own community to make a difference.

“When I first became a principal, there was a lot of talk, and people made comments to me about going back to the mountain people, back to moonshine country, because this area was also associated with moonshine,” Styles said.

“We have the red clay, and it’s not very good for farming, not a lot of ways to make money, so our ancestors often turned to moonshine as a means to support their families. I don’t judge that because I know that people in Blue Ridge have a lot of pride. They don’t ask for handouts, so people had to do what they had to do to take care of their families.”

“I felt like I was being called to come back to my own community and to serve my community to make a difference because I see such wonderful people here, so I decided to come back and return and teach here,” she said.

After teaching at the school, Styles became the first female principal in the history of Skyland, and one of the longest-standing principals in the Blue Ridge area.

More than two decades after taking on that role, Styles has seen the community transition into a place that draws people from as far away as New York and Washington state.

“Our world is very small,” Styles said. “They want schools that have high ratings. In 2017, our school was named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.”

“We were one of five schools that was selected as a feature school for national blue ribbon, and we had the guests come here, spent a whole day in our school, filming and asking questions about what we do here,” she said.

Before they left, Styles asked her own question, saying, “You go to all the schools in the nation that are among the best and brightest, was there anything that stood out at Skyland as something of interest?”

She shared the response, “One of the things they commented was, ‘we can feel a lot of love here, a lot of positive connections.’”

“That goes back, I think, to our Blue Ridge roots,” Styles said. “People here are connected. I think one of the reasons I’ve been able to stay in Blue Ridge so long is because I am connected to the community. I understand them. I’m a part of them. I think that means a lot to our community.”

Greenville County Councilman for District 17 Joe Dill knows the community as well as anyone. He has served the Blue Ridge area for 32 years–12 years on the Greenville County School Board and 20 years on council. He also serves as Minister of Music at Blue Ridge Baptist Church.

“Our community is close with our churches and schools,” he said.

Dill is proud of the growing resources available in the area.

“We now have David Jackson Park, the Campbell’s Covered Bridge, and the Poinsett Bridge–recreation places for our community and people passing through,” he said. “We are having a lot of growth. New people are moving in and people are living closer together.”

Of course, the Blue Ridge mountains, from which the community derives its name, is a major part of the people who live there and an attraction for newcomers.

“We think that Blue Ridge is beautiful,” Styles said. “We love our surroundings. Most of us who are Blue Ridge, we love the mountainous setting.”

“We love to go outside and see the Blue Ridge mountains and just enjoy the beauty of our surroundings,” she said. “There’s rich wildlife here. I’m a nut about wildflowers, so many beautiful wildflowers, so many unique wildflowers.

There’s a lot of treasures in this part of our state.”

The area’s location is also a draw.

“We’re so close to downtown Greenville, and at the same time, we’re very close to Hendersonville, North Carolina; Landrum; Tryon and even Asheville,” Styles said. “Right here in Blue Ridge, you’ve got the best of the best. You’re close to all those locations; you’ve got lots of options and opportunities.”

Stepping up
“My mother-in-law says I came for Christmas in 1989 and never left. Part of that is true,” said Chris Crist about his introduction to Blue Ridge.

Crist married Blue Ridge High graduate, the former Tonya Lynn, and in 1993 moved across from the home where she was raised.

“Once we moved back here, we immersed ourselves in the community, going to high school athletics, church and just being a part of the BR community,” he said.

Crist’s children attended Skyland Elementary, Blue Ridge Middle and Blue Ridge High; and he coached the high school girls varsity soccer team for four years and boys varsity soccer team for two years before stepping down after the 2018 season.

During that time, and since, he has witnessed a camaraderie in the people that transcends location.

“The Blue Ridge community supports each other. Show up in any church gym on a Saturday morning and you will find it is packed out to watch children play basketball for their church. Sporting events, church gatherings, neighborhood parties, any community event is well attended by the BR faithful,” Crist said. “Want to raise money for a sick or injured person…Call on the BR community and see how fast those folks step up.”

He has seen that action played out through the Greer, Blue Ridge high school sports rivalry.

“I think there is a friendly banter that goes on between the fan base and communities. But when adversity strikes either community, EVERYONE comes together and supports each other,” Crist said. “Years ago when Coach (David) Farnham died, there was lots of black and gold at his funeral. When Nathan Moore tragically passed away, the Blue Ridge community held that family up in prayer and support. And recently when Coach (Travis) Perry went through his cancer battle, we all cheered his success.

“So while Blue Ridge still claims north of Wade Hampton, and Greer is in the city, the truth is both communities are growing towards each other at such a fast pace that its hard to tell the difference any more.”

While Crist recognizes that growth in the area has changed the physical landscape of the once rural area, he maintains that the heart and soul of its residents remains constant.

“As a whole, most BR folks are hard working, down-to-earth people.

Many of them live near the houses they grew up in. They still attend the same church and in some cases married their high school sweetheart,” he said. “(They are) people that you can count on and their word still means something.”

The only place to be
Alan Pittman is one of those people.

“I’m on the same property I grew up on. My daddy had 48 acres of land, and he passed away, and that’s where I’m at. I ain’t leaving,” he said during a recent stop at O’Neal Hot Dog Shop on Highway 101 North, a fixture in the Blue Ridge community.

“I remember when this store right here used to be a STORE. I could come get credit here,” Pittman said of the former O’Neal Grocery.

“You could come get anything you want. (The manager) had a book, and she’d write everything down ‘cause she paid for the groceries separate; the gas was separate; and the cigarettes was separate.”

The store has been around since before Pittman was born in the 60s.

“When I grew up, you knew everybody,” he said. “The road I grew up there, I could ride my bicycle all day long. I had one vehicle to worry about during the day.”

Pittman has since traded his two-wheeler for a 16-wheeler, but he always returns to his childhood home.

“I’m an Over-the-Road truck driver,” he said. “I’ve been all over these United States; there’s nowhere in this country that I’d rather be than right up there on my property. Me and my financee are fixing to build a house up there, and that’s where we’re going to retire; that’s where we’re going to stay because society has gone crazy. Just trust me, like I said, there’s not a big city in this United States that I have not been in, and nowhere in this country would I rather be than right here.”

kaelyn@greercitizen.com | 877-2076

Profile:

County Council Representative: Joe Dill
Greenville County School Board Trustee: Joy Grayson
Area Schools:
Mountain View Elementary
Skyland Elementary
Tigerville Elementary
Blue Ridge Middle
Blue Ridge High
North Greenville University

Blue Ridge Son:

Perhaps the most famous person to hail from Blue Ridge is country singer Aaron Tippin, who graduated from Blue Ridge High in 1976.

After beginning his singing career in the church choir at Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, Tippin recently celebrated 25 years in the music industry.

“That’s where I was raised up, everything I know and who I am,” he said in a 2016 interview. “When you talkin’ to Aaron Tippin, you’re pretty much talking to a South Carolina hillbilly boy.”

Tippin has retained ties to his hometown, creating a CD called “The Blue Ridge Project: Giving Back” with fellow Blue Ridge alumni Phil and Mark Lister (founding members of the country band Dixiana) and Wanda Land. Organized by retired teacher and songwriter Joe Bruce, who also attended BRHS, the CD was released in 2011 as a fundraiser for the school.

Tippin also returned to perform as headliner for the Greer Family Fest in 2012.

Dark Corner Roots:

Since early in the nineteenth century, extreme northeastern Greenville County, especially the remote, rugged environs of Glassy and Hogback Mountains, has been known as the “Dark Corner.” Although opened to settlement following the Revolutionary War, the area remained sparsely populated well into the twentieth century. Its antebellum inhabitants were subsistence farmers who gained a reputation at the county seat for being poor, uneducated, prone to violence, and fiercely independent….The isolated hills and hollows of Dark Corner were a haven for Confederate deserters during the war and in succeeding decades for countless illicit whiskey distillers.

Source: www.scencyclopedia.org

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