After more than 70 years, Edisto Memorial Garden’s Chinese waterwheel still stands, a silent sentinel watching as children play and sweethearts stroll along the dike that holds back the black river water.
The wheel has seen generations of local folks and visitors come and go as the seasons passed.
Each season surrounds the wheel with its own special beauty.
In the summer, overhanging mossy limbs create a quiet oasis that gives passersby a spot to sit and meditate as they watch the wheel’s slow, rhythmic turning and listen to the peaceful sound of the water pouring from its buckets.
The red, yellow and brown leaves of fall give way to the stark, bare beauty of winter, which surrenders to the green of spring.
Throughout the never-ending cycle, the wheel continues its rotation, a tribute to Andrew Dibble, the city’s first superintendent of parks and recreation.
In early 1941, Dibble was at home recovering from a case of the flu and pondering how he could supply water in an aesthetic way to the newly built pond in what is now the Rose Garden.
While reading the National Geographic magazine, he saw a photograph of a beautiful Chinese waterwheel and read the accompanying story about how the Chinese used waterwheels with bamboo buckets attached to irrigate their rice paddies.
Dibble decided that he could successfully adapt the wheel to provide an unending supply of fresh water for the pond and also create a beautiful and peaceful corner for visitors.
Dibble called on a local wheelwright, Durham Bozard, who quickly built the wheel. In September 1941, it was installed in its familiar spot in the river.
Over the years, the wheel has been a popular attraction, both to locals and tourists.
With routine maintenance, the Orangeburg monument withstood the elements well until June 2012, when a large tree fell on it, damaging its paddles and center steel shaft.
The city’s service department removed the waterwheel from the river, repaired it and put it back in place. The repairs cost about $500 and rental of the crane to move the 4,000-pound structure cost another $500. The wheel, which measures about 12 feet wide and 24 feet long, had to be taken out of the river and replaced in two sections.
By mid-September, the waterwheel had been repaired and once again stood in its rightful place in the Edisto River, resting on pontoons so that the entire structure rises and falls with the river.
Though water is now pumped into the gardens’ ponds from the river, a switching mechanism and pipes remain in place should the faithful waterwheel be needed again.