History of the Andrew Pickens Ranger District
The Andrew Pickens Ranger District, Sumter National Forest, is situated in the mountains of northwest South Carolina. The district was the home of the Cherokee Indians. Several local place names and streams are named after Cherokee villages. These include the Chattooga, Chauga, Cheohee, Tugaloo, Toxaway, Keowee, Oconee, Tomassee, and Jocassee rivers or creeks.
By the mid-eighteenth century, white settlers in the piedmont began to encroach on the territory of the Cherokees. These settlers were predominantly of Scotch-Irish, German, and French Huguenot background. The British constructed forts on the western frontier to regulate trade with the Indians and protect white settlements.
White settlements were attacked by the Indians in the Cherokee War of 1759-1761. This resulted in the destruction of most of the Cherokee Villages on the Andrew Pickens Ranger District in 1760 by a British expedition. Some villages were rebuilt, but many Indians decided to move further west to avoid conflict with the whites. The villages were destroyed again in 1776 by Americans during the Revolutionary War when the Cherokees aligned themselves with the British. General Andrew Pickens was among those who destroyed these villages including Tomassee which he later appropriated for the site of his own plantation. He ordered the construction of Oconee Station in 1792 as a military outpost to defend against future Indian attacks. A few Indians remained on the district into the 1800s, but most fled to settlements further west.
Bitter fighting in the back country during the Revolution retarded settlement of the Indian lands. By the 1790s whites were moving into the area and starting small farms. In 1798 this became part of the Pendleton District with a judicial seat in nearby Pendleton. Early settlements concentrated along the major rivers and creeks and often made use of the already cleared Indian fields. Farms were largely self sufficient and few market crops were raised. Livestock were grazed on the surrounding forested mountains. Population growth was gradual until by the mid nineteenth century most good agricultural land was in use and less suitable slopes and areas along small creek bottoms were being cleared for cultivation.
The town of Walhalla was founded in the 1850s by the German Settlement Society. The Blue Ridge Railroad Company was chartered in 1852 to build a railroad to West Union near Walhalla and extend it over the mountains to Georgia and Tennessee. Work was begun on the route which passes through the Andrew Pickens District in 1853. Several large cuts, built up grades, and tunnels were constructed by different work crews. The largest tunnel was over one mile long on Stumphouse Mountain. A town of 1,500 people was constructed at Tunnel Hill in 1856 to accommodate the predominantly Irish railroad workers building the tunnel. The proposed railroad failed in 1859 for financial reasons and was never completed. It was built to West Union in 1860 and terminated at Walhalla in 1870.
The 1850s were also a time of extensive minerals exploration and mining on the Andrew Pickens Ranger District. Most mining was in search of gold. Old shafts, tunnels, and pits are found on the district. The most intensive mining was along Cheohee, Tomassee, and Cherokee Creeks.
Most of the district was logged of old growth timber in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. These privately owned lands were degraded by logging and frequent burning which prevented the return of productive timber stands. The General Pickens District began with land acquired in 1914 in what was called the Savannah Purchase Unit administered by the Nantahala National Forest. The land was purchased under the authority of the 1911 Weeks Act which allowed the Forest Service to acquire forest land at the headwaters of navigable streams like the Savannah River to protect water quality and reduce flooding.
The district became part of the Sumter National Forest when it was established by presidential proclamation in 1936. The extensive cutover lands of the Whitewater River Lumber Company were acquired in the 1940s. Conservation work began immediately to restore the productivity and health of the forests. Many projects were accomplished by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s including the construction of campgrounds, trails, picnic areas, and a fish hatchery. The district was reforested through the planting of trees and exclusion of uncontrolled fire.