Cherokee Museum of South Carolina

By:Kerry Egan


Long before European colonists first began to attempt hunting and farming in the foothills and escarpment of South Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, thriving towns and villages dotted this rolling land of rivers, waterfalls and rocky outcroppings. Communities of Cherokee Indians made this beautiful place their home.

The Cherokee Museum of South Carolina in Walhalla works to preserve this important part of South Carolina history and educate all those who come to visit in the rich culture of the Upstate’s Cherokee heritage.

Known as the “Lower Towns,” because other Cherokee towns were located at a higher altitude in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, more than two dozen villages were scattered all over the northwest corner of South Carolina.

The Lower Towns were thriving communities for centuries. Today, archaeologists have found hundreds of pieces of pottery and other artifacts in the sites of these former villages.

When early colonists reached this rugged part of South Carolina, they traded with the local villagers. In fact, trade with the Cherokee became a vital part of colonial South Carolina’s early economic development. The Cherokee Path, the central trade route, once stretched from the Cherokee town of Keowee (near present-day Clemson) all the way to Charleston. You can still hike part of the Cherokee Path at the Ninety Six National Historic Site.

Over time, European settlers pushed further and further into Cherokee territory. The Cherokee ceded huge swaths of land to the colonists over a series of treaties, but the settlers continued to move into the Cherokee’s homeland.

The museum’s exhibits tell the remarkable story of the Lower Town Cherokee and one of its main assets is the storytellers themselves. The people who work and volunteer at the museum are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about this crucial part of our state’s heritage.

The museum, which is in the midst of an expansion, also is working to excavate the site of one of the towns, located right next to the Oconee Station Historic Site.

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