Swan Lake-Iris Gardens has always been known as a place of history given to the Sumter community.
Since 1927, Swan Lake-Iris Gardens has represented Sumter with beauty and tranquility.
Today, the …
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Today, the gardens still represent the city's beauty, especially with the help of Sumter artist Grainger McKoy.
After being closed for construction since July 2019, the city reopened the Swan Lake-Iris Gardens main entrance Wednesday afternoon, showcasing McKoy's newest statue, a 24-foot tower of birds named Seven Swans.
This is McKoy's second statue in the park, as he created the statue Recovery in May 2010, which is a dramatic 18-foot sculpture placed in the heart of Swan Lake-Iris Gardens.
City of Sumter officials held a reception for the event and invited the community to celebrate the beautiful centerpiece of the entrance to the gardens, calling it a "priceless value of beauty" and a matter of "civic pride."
"We in Sumter are striving to build a community that will be a pleasant place for current citizens to live and attract others who would want to live here, too," said Mayor Joe McElveen. "Today we celebrate a place of beauty in the center of our city."
McElveen said the gardens were given to the city decades ago thanks to the Heath and Bland families, and Freddie Heath and his sister, Sister Wimberly, were in attendance to celebrate the gardens they've always known.
Born and raised in Sumter, the two siblings grew up with the Swan Lake area being their outdoor playground.
"Not much was done with the gardens. It was kind of a wilderness," Wimberly said.
With the changes through the years, the two siblings were happy to see Swan Lake-Iris Gardens bring positivity to the community, and Wimberly was pleased with the new entranceway and hopes it will draw attention to the gardens.
McElveen said everything involving the sculpture and fountain was donated, and the state helped the city with expenses for the construction behind the sculpture. He thinks it was worth all the time and effort put into it, as the statue represents a key asset in Sumter.
"This is the gem of our community, Swan Lake," McElveen said. "It's a statement about the community."
Amazed by the turnout of nearly 400 people at the reopening, all McKoy could say was "wow" before speaking.
"Seventy years ago, my parents moved their sons down to Lakeside Court. That's a half mile from here," McKoy said. "One of my earliest memories was holding bread in one hand and my mother's hand in the other walking down to Swan Lake."
McKoy thinks the many trips walking down to Swan Lake with his mother triggered his artistic career involving the dynamics of bird behavior.
"I'm so grateful for the opportunity that Sumter entrusted me with that special spot right there," McKoy said.
Many have asked why McKoy chose to showcase seven swans rather than eight, as there are eight species of swans at the gardens. He said eight looked wrong with the design, and he was looking for completeness.
"When God created the Earth, he did it in seven days," McKoy said. "Seven is considered a number of completeness."
Before turning on the fountain's water, McKoy said that "on the fifth day, God stirred the water, and birds (were) born from the water," showing why he created a statue with the seven swans flying out of the water.
"My hope is that people will be stirred by the beauty represented here," McKoy said.
The statue's water is planned to run night and day, while also being lit up at night.
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