While you’re camped at Keowee-Toxaway State Natural Area, be sure to take a half-day or so to visit Oconee Station State Historic Site. It’s only about fifteen miles from the Park, and you’ll get to drive at least thirteen of those miles on the Cherokee Highway, aka Route 11. The two miles or so of secondary roads from Route 11 to the Site are even more picturesque.
Here’s a map of the Site, courtesy of the informative www.OconeeCountry.com website. Oconee Station opens its gates daily from April 1st to November 30th. And from Friday through Sunday the rest of the year. If you’re not able to visit on a Saturday or Sunday, when the buildings are open from 1PM to 5PM, it’s best to call ahead to make sure someone will be around.
Folks have been living in this part of Oconee County, South Carolina, for quite some time. No wonder, given the beautiful scenery! Well, before this ever was “Oconee Station,” it was “Aconnee,” or the Cherokee “Lower Town,” according to the historic marker you see in the picture above. Click the photo for a more legible image. The Cherokee abandoned that town in 1755 or so. I don’t know when it was first established. Will have to ask.
So, how did “Aconnee” become Oconee Station? That’s an interesting story. You’ll have to dig a little to find it, though, since like most of the history of this part of South Carolina, customary sources are pretty thin.
Land-hungry Northern European settlers began filtering into the region following the Revolutionary War, a migration that understandably irritated American Indian tribes that had occupied the region for some time. The American Indian lifestyle required large tracts of unsettled land to support their traditional methods of hunting and fishing. Some violent interaction between the American Indians and the American Northern Europeans was inevitable.
South Carolina’s State Militia, in response, built a series of small forts, or “stations” along what was then the frontier to protect those Northern European immigrants as they occupied land throughout the region. Oconee Station, pictured above, was one of those “stations.” Begun in 1792 it served its military purpose until 1799.
As you see in photos above, these stations were little more than blockhouses into which soldiers and settlers could crowd when necessary. Nothing like the more elaborate military installation at Fort Prince George, down the river a bit.
And here’s a close-up of the stonework on the other side. That gray mortar you see above looks as if it was part of the restoration process. But I’m not sure. Those have to be original stones, though.
By the mid-1700s, this essentially military installation had become a trading post. A focus of commerce in this region with the American Indians. William Richards made a good living here with this trading post and a brickyard. More on that in a moment.
You can read more about this station, or fort, in an interesting 1989 manuscript by Frederick C. Holder with a click here. And the Wikipedia entry for Oconee Station State Historic Site is here. Just click. For more detail, you’ll have to dig around for yourself. Don’t expect too much help from the traditional South Carolina historical sources. They seem to me a bit thin on this part of the State.
Just steps from the Oconee Station sits the house Mr. Richards built in 1805. It too has been carefully restored. At least on the outside. Failing to call ahead, I wasn’t able to see what it looks like on the inside.
Now, brick lasts! At least, lasts longer than wood in this climate. Here you see the remains of what must have been a brick patio area in front of the porch. Holder mentions in his 1989 manuscript that Richards also operated a brickyard here. So be sure to take a good look at these bricks when you visit.
Here’s a short video on the site that I took during my visit.
Stay tuned, since we have one more side-trip to make from Keowee-Toxaway State Park. A nearby museum. The World of Energy.