South Carolina roads of importance to the Back Country prior to 1900

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March 30, 2023 by Moonville Mae - Views: 72

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South Carolina roads of importance to the Back Country prior to 1900

The Piedmont Museum volunteers have been delving into the Payne/Garrison/Tarrant Collection and finding historic information about the area of western Greenville County that has provided new revelations concerning our ancient roads. Plats dating back to the 1790s often show roads passing across property and creeks and rivers as well. These provide insight about what these paths and waterways were called by settlers and locate homesites and farms. They also give us a richer understanding of how our ancestors were able to move across the upstate to trade, build, farm, marry and live.

Charlene Spelts and I made
a trip to see the Poinsett Bridge
which was built in 1820 on the
State Road in Northern Greenville.

Beginning as bison trails and Native American paths, passageways were necessary for settlers. Many of these roads are no longer known to the folks of the county or upstate. So, I thought I would point out a few of the key ones. Mostly trade paths that brought commerce and later industry to the back country, these are still important for us to understand how this area was part of westward expansion even prior to the Revolution. We were the Wild, Wild West in the 1700s and early 1800s.

Augusta Road/Buncombe Road/White Horse Road

These names designate the same road, the drover’s road from Kentucky to Augusta, Georgia, even back to the Colonies. The road to Augusta led through the middle of downtown Greenville’s Main Street, so part of the multitudes of live stock coming down the road bypassed the center of town by taking the White Horse Road

There were taverns and stage stops along the road in the 1800s for the drovers and Low Country visitors. This byway was Greenville’s first important transport for cotton and tobacco as well, and it was our first north to south through-fare of over 50 miles. The road to Augusta is older than the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails, and portions have been designated as National Register Historic Road sections.

The State Road

The State Road was constructed in the early 1800s to bring travelers and trades folk from Charleston to the back country’s cooler, mountain areas. It was built in 1820, and we have the beautiful and historic Poinsett Bridge as a memorial to early road building engineers. It came into the county near Greer and exited into Tuxedo, North Carolina, through the Saluda Gap. It is still a viable road below Columbia as it passes through cotton and peanut fields on its way to Goose Creek.

Georgia Road

The road to Georgia is interesting, because it was the way to the early back country towns in Georgia in the 1700s and 1800s. This path brought Georgians from the Milledgeville area, once the capitol of Georgia, across the Savannah River at the tobacco port of Petersburg which was across from Mt. Carmel, SC. Then the trail passed through Abbeville and on to Belton, Williamston, and Pelzer before crossing the Saluda into Greenville County. West Georgia Road crossed the drover’s road to Augusta in southern Greenville County before passing on to East Georgia and into Spartanburg County. From the Spartan

County line, Georgia Road continued on to Spartanburg and then on to King’s Mountain. It must have been a major military trail since it left there crossing into North Carolina and Virginia later reaching

Washington, D.C. 

This was probably part of the Great Wagon Road bringing our forefathers into the backcountry as well.

This old road bed is near
Way Cross Church.  Thanks to the Fants.

The Road to Petersburg

Petersburg was a short-lived port on the Savannah where tobacco was to be certified and weighed. But for that short period around 1800 the road to Petersburg left Greenville and passed through Golden Grove on what is now Old Pelzer Road and met with Georgia Road just before reaching the Saluda River crossing at Pelzer. After leaving Pelzer it followed southwest through Williamston, Belton, Abbeville and Mt. Carmel to cross the Savannah to Petersburg.

Laurens Road

Laurens Road was another way to get to Columbia by passing through the Golden Strip, Laurens, Clinton, Newbery, Prosperity and on into the capitol.

If you own property that has not been disturbed in many decades, especially a wooded tract, you may have one of these old wagon roads crossing through. The deep ruts are often still visible and walkable although trees may fill the valleys. You may have wondered about that gully. If so, most likely you have a wagon road. Congratulations! Just mull over the feet and wheels that passed and imagine why they were traveling and who they might have been.

Today we talk about how bad the traffic is and how bad the roads are. We just have no idea how those issues affected travelers on foot, horseback, and by wagon and stage - another time for that sad story.

Anne Peden, Phd.
Greenville County Historic Preservation Commission
Fork Shoals Historical Society
Piedmont Historical 
Preservation Society■


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