Searching for Frontier History and Fun with Kids in the Upstate

By:Kerry Egan

Date:7/17/2017

In some parts of South Carolina, history is easy to find. In Charleston, you can’t go 50 steps on the peninsula without bumping into or passing by some ancient artifact or edifice.

But in the far reaches of the Upstate—a place once known as the Dark Corner—the lushness of the forests and the scarcity of big towns can make remnants of South Carolina’s long history harder to find.

That certainly doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. This small corner of the state, marked by waterfalls and stark rocky outcroppings, was once the home of the Lower Towns of the Cherokee. Dozens of thriving villages once dotted these hills and valleys.

At the time of the American Revolution, this was a frontier area, where colonists journeyed to trade with Cherokee. In the early decades of the new country, settlers pushed into the Cherokee territory, first building forts and trading posts, clearing a long narrow road from mountains to the port of Charleston; later building court houses and mills, turning forest into isolated farms.

This is not the South Carolina of the Lowcountry. It’s South Carolina of the mountains and foothills, with its own unique history.

For adventurous and history-loving families, that fact that the rich history of the Upstate is a bit harder to find is just part of the fun—the search and discovery. Driving down a long and winding country road and finding an old grist mill, or hiking through the woods and finding the remnants of an old stone hearth, is its own special sort of thrill for a history buff.

But we also know that just a few suggestions to get you started on your search for history in the Upstate would be helpful. And since we know that some, maybe most, kids love to learn by doing and playing rather than just looking, we’ve picked out a few places where kids can run and sing and play and explore.

So have some family fun discovering this other South Carolina history.

The Hagood Mill Historic Site and Folklife Center in Pickens is a bucolic place with historic buildings ranging from a 1791 log cabin to gin mill to a blacksmith shop. The star, though, is the 1825 grist mill and its huge, 20-foot wooden wheel. The place bursts into joyful noise on the third Saturday of each month, when the sounds of some of the very best bluegrass bands and the laughter of families fill the air for the Music and Arts Festival. The whole family might be dancing before you know it.

While there, make sure to check out the Hagood Creek Petroglyph Site for some really, really, really old history.

Kings Mountain State Park really comes alive in the fall, when re-enactors fill the living history farm located within the park. Make sure to visit on a day with a scheduled presentation. Your kids won’t need to imagine what life was like on an 18th-century yeoman farm; they can see it right in front of them.

Oconee Station was founded in 1792 as an Army blockhouse in what was then the South Carolina frontier. Quickly, a trading post sprouted up as well, used by the Cherokee of the Lower Towns and early Americans from the coasts to trade furs, skins, guns and other materials. It seems hard to believe today, but a little more than 200 years ago, the two stone and brick houses standing at Oconee Station State Historic Site were standing on the remote edge of a deep, seemingly unending forest.

The two remaining houses and the placards that explain their significance are fascinating for history buffs. But the fun for kids comes in the form of a beautiful and fairly easy hike through the woods to a gorgeous waterfall payoff, right down the trail from the old houses still keeping watch.

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