Greenville Town Common, Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza

Identity, History, and Legacy

The old downtown neighborhood in Greenville was once a vibrant African American community, and included the Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist church. All of this was destroyed by misguided urban renewal in the 1960s.

We engaged with the community of church members and former residents to address the neighborhood’s demise and to find a healing solution to redress decades of displacement.

Part of a larger master plan for a new public park named Greenville Town Common, we are designing a memorial space on the site of the former African American church. Towering stained glass walls will rise from the ground on the original footprint of the church following the pattern of original walls, windows, and bell tower. Park benches that recall church pews will be placed in the space that was once the church sanctuary. Existing trees surrounding the space maintain the quality of light that connects the visitor to create a serene and spiritual ambiance.

This project commemorates the historic African American neighborhood along the Tar River that was razed under 1960s urban renewal.
The Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza is created to redress the leveling of the neighborhood targeted by urban renewal efforts.
Neighborhood (above) pre-urban renewal; (below) post-urban renewal
The Sycamore Hill Baptist Church which stood on a prominent corner of the site, burned in suspected arson.
“The church’s history should not be lost.”

Freddie Outterbridge, a community member, describing his thoughts on the memorial.

Towering stained glass walls will rise from the ground on the original footprint of the church following the pattern of original walls, windows, and bell tower.
Visitors will learn more about Greenville’s historic black neighborhood and understand the prominence of the church in the African American community.
The plaza will serve as a physical artifact in the urban context, blending the landscape with paved areas, creating paths to and from the Tar River.
Community, spirituality, and history

Three key components were considered while creating the park’s design: community, spirituality, and history. These concepts are represented with three gallery spaces, encouraging congregation, learning, and reflection.

Park benches that recall church pews will be placed in the space that was once the church sanctuary. Existing trees surrounding the space maintain the quality of light that connects the visitor to create a serene and spiritual ambience.
“Perkins and Will brought people through the journey. They listened and were able to transform the community’s words and ideas into a design.”

Lamarco Morrison, Former Parks Planner, City of Greenville

Community Engagement

Downtown Greenville community and Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church congregation members were a fundamental element of the planning and design process: their histories and aspirations were the driving force behind the project’s design.

Participants were asked to think about what Sycamore Hill meant to them and how it personally impacted their lives. Encouraged to share stories, artifacts, and mementos, community members crafted a rich narrative from which we could draw design inspiration.

Project Team

People
Zena Howard