The first records of the Keowee area being visited dates back to 1540 when a Spanish explorer named Hernando DeSoto traveled through what is now the Upstate of South Carolina. None other than a land of trees and mountains, it wasn’t until many years later that this area became a focal point. In the early half of the 18th century the Cherokee Indian nation consisted of three sections: Overhills, Middle Cherokees, and Lower Towns. It was a place called Keowee Town that the Cherokee chose as their capital and main area of trade and diplomacy in the “Lower Towns”.  Keowee Town translates to “place of the mulberries” and is also known as Keowee Valley because of its location alongside the Keowee River.

In 1753 South Carolina built Fort Prince George by command of Governor James Glenn.  The fort was built on the opposite side of the Keowee River from Keowee Town and was used as a British outpost and trading center.  Originally, the fort was a sign of peace and open trade with the Cherokee, but over time increasing tension with settlers, and the gradual theft of Cherokee land led to major problems. Fort Prince George played a major role in the Angelo-Cherokee War for it was where the murders of Cherokee hostages took place, one of several events that propelled both nations into war.  Once the war was over peace treaties included the surrender of most of the eastern Cherokee lands, including the regions of Keowee Valley and the Keowee River.  By 1775, northwestern South Carolina and parts of adjoining North Carolina contained approximately 60,000 European Americans and 80,000 African Americans.

Over time more people moved into the mountains and mountain valleys. Early settlers traveled the area along the well-established trade routes and began to make their homes and farms along the rugged land. With this increased population came the railroad systems which mainly moved livestock and lumber from the area. Like many towns, the introduction of the railroad brought the textile industry to the upstate, and many mountain inhabitants migrated from their isolated homesteads to work in the local town mills, such as Newry Mill.

In 1963, Duke Power Company formed Carolina Land and Timber Company, which purchased an 83,400-acre tract of land in the Toxaway Valley and Keowee Valley area from Singer Corporation and private landowners. Duke Power Company announced construction of the Keowee Toxaway Project on January 2, 1965, and began development in 1967. The construction resulted in the formation of 18,400-acre Lake Keowee and 7,500-acre Lake Jocassee. From 1967 to 1969 excavation, of what is now Lake Keowee, took place and from 1969 to 1971 the lake was filled.

Today the Keowee Valley and the Keowee River are submerged under the blue waters of Lake Keowee. Though much of the area’s history is preserved within the waters, there are still historical landmarks such as Newry Mill and the incomplete railroad of Stumphouse Tunnel that are only a short drive from the Lake Keowee area.



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