Lake Keowee History
Rich in Indian History...
Beneath Lake Keowee lies memories of the once fertile and prosperous Keowee Valley. The Valley was lush with abundant wildlife and fed by the mighty Keowee River. During the period of 1721 to 1781 maps listed several Cherokee villages near and in the valley such as Keowee, Toxaway, Estatoe, Tomassee, Tugaloo, Oconne, Kulsage and Seneca. However, this valley was also home to over 400 Cherokee Indians at their capital, Keowee Village, on the banks of the Keowee River.
It was once noted that in 1721 that 450 Cherokees lived at the village consisting of 168 men, 155 women and 127 children. The centerpiece of the village was a council house where social events and meetings took place. The council house was a domed type structure held up by large timbers. This and other structures were usually located on higher ground since near the river there were always chances of it flooding. The residences houses were normally located further away from the council house.
These residences were built of a series of upright posts, clay and thatch. Normally, only one family would live in a home. Even though the Cherokee were mostly hunters the Keowee River provided a source for fresh water and fish for the village and also setup a trade route for the prosperous fur trading between the European settlers.
A map of points of interest in Keowee and Jocasse Valley before the formation of the two lakes with an overlay of the current Lake Keowee and Lake Jocassee.
In 1753 the South Carolina governor, James Glen, began the construction of Fort Prince George to protect the Cherokees from the French. It was believed the Cherokee would be a valuable to trade with so the Governor wanted to protect the interest of South Carolina. Because of this deep and interesting history extensive archaeological excavations were done at the site of Keowee Village and Fort Prince George in the 18 months prior to flooding the Keowee Valley.
It was discovered the fort included numerous buildings, a palisade, earthen walls and a dried out mote. The entire fort was excavated except for the mote area which only had some sampling. During the excavations three skeletons were found that were thought to be Native Americans. To this day Indian artifacts can be found along the shoreline washed from the once homeland of the Cherokee.
Keowee Valley Home to Many...
In the late 1800's and 1900's more people discovered Keowee Valley and the refreshing waters of the Keowee River. The land provided fertile farm land and a constant water source for farming and the waters also provided an avenue of commerce for others. Also, nearby residents from towns such as Seneca and Pickens would travel up to the river for recreation and site seeing. The valley was a home place for many spanning back several generations as was noted from the recollections from many.
Keowee River Circa 1936
In the early 1960's times began to change as growth set in the area and Duke Power planned a hydroeletric project for the Keowee and Jocassee Valleys. The following is an excerpt from, Keowee, a book about the hsitory of the Keowee Valley which describes the feeling at the time.
"It was a post-World War II boom-time, for growth in population, housing, energy-use and consumption. No river with the downhill heft of Keowee would escape the sam builders' advances. It was also a time in which the economics of the family farm forced some uncomfortable compromises among those who had for all history, in the words of Fruber Whitmire, "lived at home." Growing one's living was a dying way of life; an infringing world ran on ready cash.
So the dies was cast. Not many who lose a birthplace, a homeplace, a piece of sacred earth to a dam through eminent domain are going to bless Duke Power. But the expressions of the unwillingy displaced after 30 years are wishful, sometimes painful, rarely ever bittier"
Keowee - Micheal Hembree and Dot Jackson
As the waters rose to form Lake Keowee and Lake Jocassee a new era was ushered into the region.