John Monroe has lived on his family farm in Elgin all his life and remembers Northeast Richland as a rural landscape mainly populated by farmers and their families. But even in high school, he said he knew the area would grow. As a former Richland County Council member and founder of the Sparkleberry Country Fair, he celebrates the area's rich heritage even as he salutes the changes all around him.
What do you love about living in Northeast Richland?
Everything. I've lived here 74 years and I was born actually and raised on the same farm I still live on. I was the last of seven children and the farm has been in my family since 1884. I've seen the area grow from 1,000 people to over 100,000. I feel like we are in the country because we have the land surrounding us but within a mile behind us is Woodcreek Farms with million-dollar homes. It's creeping up all around us but it is still rural to us. I still love it even with the traffic and all. It's a very diverse area.
It's a wonderful place to live. Growing up we had to go to Two Notch and Beltline to buy our groceries and now we just go up the street. Clemson University still has about 600 acres that we do the Sparkleberry Fair on, and I hope that will stay intact (that and Sesquicentennial State Park). I hope that green space will stay. I call it an oasis. There is just something about open space and a farm that is just relaxing to people.
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Did you expect this explosion of growth and the change that would come?
We had an agriculture teacher, Mr. Young, who used to tell us, “Boys, buy every piece of land you can because Columbia and Camden will meet in 20 years.” We knew it was coming; maybe not the magnitude it is now. I was on County Council and we ran a water line from Lake Murray to handle the Northeast area and supposedly it would handle it for 20-30 years, but I understand another line had to be laid. That just far exceeded the predictions the planning commission ever made.
Do you think the influx of new residents into the area is changing the character of Northeast Richland?
I don't know how many nationalities are represented in Richland 2 but it was about 40 different countries a few years ago. That is one reason I started the Sparkleberry Fair to help bring the community together, to showcase how it was 60 or 70 years ago. We wanted to keep that flavor of how it was years ago plus the new more modern outlook. I think the community needs things to rally around.
What are three hidden gems in Northeast Richland?
Little Pigs Barbeque (Alpine Road); Sesquicentennial State Park (Two Notch Road); and Clemson Sandhill Research and Education Center (Clemson and Two Notch roads).