Hagood Mill Historic Site
Grist Mills and Rural Life
Grist mills were once a vital part of rural life in America. Like the local mercantile, the grist mill was a place where distant neighbors would get together and share news of their families and crops. Or just pass around the newspaper and talk politics.
But time slipped past those simpler days. Since we no longer need to take our grains to the mill to be ground into flour and meal, over the past 100 years the old grist mills have fallen out of use and disrepair. Most have succumbed to the ravages of time and passed into a distant memory.
But the fine folks at Hagood Mill Historic Site in Pickens, South Carolina are working hard to preserve a small piece of that rural history.
Hagood Mill History
A grist mill has existed here since at least the 1790’s, when Bailey Anderson built what may have been the area’s first grist mill. Unfortunately, his descendants lost the mill and land in 1825, when it was purchased by Ben Hagood, a wealthy neighbor. Hagood’s son, James, is credited with building the current mill in 1845.
By all accounts the mill grew into a successful business, and along with Hagood’s nearby general store became a gathering place for the rural farmers from the surrounding area.
By 1870, the mill was producing 2500 bushels of meal and 200 bushels of flour a year. In 1880 production included 120,000 pounds of cornmeal and 20,000 pounds of feed. Farmers would travel to Hagood Mill and General Store not only to have their grain ground into flour but to purchase whatever supplies they needed too.
A Desperate Bid to Save Hagood Mill
For over a hundred years Hagood’s Mill remained in operation, but it was finally forced to shutdown in 1966 due to new food safety rules.
In a bid to keep another piece of rural South Carolina history from falling victim to the ravages of time, the descendants of James Hagood donated the mill to the Pickens County Museum in 1973.
The mill and its waterwheel were rebuilt in the 1970’s, and then the entire mill was restored again in the 1990’s. Other historic buildings were moved to the site and restored to create a living museum where visitors can step back into our rural past. Along with the mill, visitors can tour restored homesteads, a blacksmith’s shop, see a cotton gin, and they even have a still. An entire old timey town has spring up around the mill, just as one did over a hundred and fifty years ago.
Hagood Mill Historic Site Today
The mill itself is fully operational and one of the last of its kind still standing in South Carolina. It’s made of unpainted clapboard with a fieldstone foundation. From the inside you can see the hand-hewn logs that have been notched and pegged together. Windows open up to the rear of the mill where you can get a good look at the wheel.
The waterwheel also sets Hagood Mill apart from others around the state. Standing 20 feet high, it’s not only the largest in South Carolina, but it’s also the only waterwheel in the state made entirely of wood.
When the wheel was fully powered by the original mill dam, it was able to produce an astonishing 22 horse power. Unfortunately the original dam is long gone, and today the wheel is powered by pumping water from the creek below into the millrace above.
There’s so much more to see here than just the mill. A pair of historical cabins have been restored and moved across the path from the mill.
A blacksmiths shop, cotton gin, and moonshine still can be found across the creek from the mill. The complex is completed by a historic barn with a family farming exhibit. Nearby there’s a stage where music acts pass through and the monthly Monthly Folklife Festival is held.
Walking through the historic buildings and along the old road, you really do get the feeling that you’re walking back through time.
Monthly Folklife Festival at Hagood Mill Historic Site
Held on the third Saturday every month, the festival not only brings bluegrass, old time, and blues musicians to the stage, but the entire mill complex spins to life to transport you back in time. The mill grinds grits, corn meal, and flour all of which are available for purchase. The blacksmith shop is open and the cotton gin is running. Spinning and weaving demonstrations take place at the old cabins. History comes to life and you can experience an old time county festival first hand.
Petroglyph Site at Hagood Mill Historic Site
The history of this site dates back eons before the fist mill was ever built. Long before the first white settlers arrived and even before Hernando De Soto explored the southeast looking for gold, this area was inhabited by the Cherokee after their migration from the Great Lakes region.
By the time the time Europeans first began exploring the region, the Cherokee had established an impressive civilization in North Carolina that extended to the Lower Towns in what’s now north western South Carolina.
Hagood Mill is located on a tributary of the Twelve Mile River which was an important waterway for the Cherokee town of Keowee, and the road the mill is built on is believed to be an old Indian road.
A Surprise Discovery
In 2003, Michael Bramlett with the South Carolina Petroglyph Survey stumbled upon the first rock carvings of human figures ever discovered in South Carolina.
The carvings are on a bolder not 100 feet from the mill. For hundreds of years people gathered at the mill, and in later years may have brought their families and picnicked on this very boulder without ever knowing what was on it.
Researchers haven’t been able to conclusively date the carvings, but believe the “stick like figures” on the rock date to prehistoric times.
Instead of risking moving the large boulder to another location for study, the county built a museum around and directly over the boulder.
The Petroglyph Center is managed and maintained by the Hagood Mill Foundation which also maintains the mill and surrounding area. The outer room of the center has exhibits and artifacts from around the Carolina mountains.
The inner room has a viewing platform and special lighting so you can see the petroglyphs on the boulder first hand. A recording by USC archaeologist and head of the South Carolina Petroglyph Survey Tommy Charles can be played to tell you the story of the Petroglyphs and what experts think they mean.
Visiting Hagood Mill Historic Site
The mill and historic site is located just off of Hwy 178 in Pickens County SC. You can park in front of the visitors center/gift shop but additional parking is available across the road at the pavilion shed. On the weekends, especially during their Third Saturday Folklife festival, your best bet may be to park on this side of the street.
At the visitor’s center, you can pick up a map of the complex listing all the buildings and at the information kiosk across the street, you can get a map for the “Native Roots Trail”. This a self guided tour around the mill grounds focusing not on the mill and the adjacent buildings, but on the original inhabitants of this area. The tour starts at the “Sacred Fire Circle” on the pavilion side of the site and continues around to the Petroglyph Center.
There’s also a ¾ mile nature trail starting across the creek from the mill. The trail climbs up to the start of the mill race feeding the mill and then around the perimeter of the property. It crosses the old Indian path where you’ll find a historic cabin that’s in the process of being restored. The path continues on and crosses another small bridge half way in and then comes out near the Petroglyph Center.
The doors to the mill and cabins are open, so you can walk inside and wander around. As they do operate the mill on the weekends, any moving parts are fenced off, but you can still see lots of machinery and other artifacts from the days that the mill ran as a way of life for the people in the area.
The site is open from Wednesday through Sunday. If you don’t like crowds, a weekday visit would be best, but if you can, visit on the third Saturday of the month for the Folklife Festival but expect a crowd. There are plenty of picnic tables and benches if you need a little break. Admission is free most days except of the festival where there’s a $5 charge. And before you leave be sure to stop by the visitors center and buy some grits or corm meal milled on site in the water driven mill.
Fast Facts About Hagood Mill Historic Site
|Type:||Roadside Attraction – Historic Site|
|Admission:||Free Most Days – $5.00 for Folklife Festival|
|Location:||138 Hagood Mill Rd, Pickens, SC 29671|
Things to do: Picnicking, Nature Walk, Festival on Third Saturday of the month, explore old mill and buildings