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  1. #1
    Gypsyheart~ Queen of Rust

    Nov 2005
    211 times

    MOUNTAIN REST , Oconee County, SC

    For many generations, the steady flow of upland tourists had found the
    Russell House a haven of refuge from the cares of an outside
    world. Many personages of renown had tarried for a night's lodging, including
    President Woodrow Wilson. Local sojourners referred to Russell's as the
    "Half-way House," for the simple reason that ox-cart drivers and horseback
    riders of that period had considered it to be approximately halfway between the
    town of Walhalla and the thriving summer resort at Highlands.

    In the early 1900s, it was more than a day's journey to follow the winding
    mountain road from Walhalla through a strip of Georgia and across Pine Mountain
    into the North Carolina tourist attraction at Highlands. Obviously, it was the
    same situation when the coming of fall brought the tourists back, over the same
    route, on their return trip homeward, and so it was that Russell's became not
    only an ideal stopover, but a necessary one, as well.

    The early history of Russell's Halfway House is a fascinating one-typical
    of the simple life and of the hardy pioneers who lived it. Considerable research
    into the authenticated facts and background of this primitive outpost has
    yielded another colorful chapter to take its place among the early traditions of
    Oconee County [Seneca Journal, 1970].

    The property on which the Russell House is located was retained in 1816 by
    a half Cherokee, Walter Adair, when the Cherokee deeded their remaining lands in
    South Carolina. William Dark purchased the property in the same year (Book N.P.
    106). In 1819, Dark sold the property to Solomon Palmer [Palmour, Palmor]
    (Pendleton Deed Book P). Palmer sold the 640 acres to Ira Nicholson on February
    10, 1928 (Pendleton District).

    Of these years, Mrs. Christine Nicholson Ables, the great-granddaughter of
    Ira Nicholson wrote, "Ira's son, Baylus, was my grandfather. Baylus had a twin
    brother named Baley. There were a total of eleven children in the Ira Nicholson

    "My father, Lee Nicholson, told me that he, his brother William, and his
    sister Rebecca were born in a log cabin where the big Russell House stands now.
    The house was constructed on four rock pillars, had a chimney made of mud and
    rock, and the log walls were plastered with clay. The windows were wooden slats
    which opened out and were held together with large hinges.

    I take great pleasure in visiting the old Russell House because it is the
    birthplace of my father. I walked down to the large springhouse. The cool
    mountain water flows down the spring entirely surrounded by rocks. This
    section was made to keep milk and butter. A big gourd dipper hangs on a peg. The
    water is so clear and cold. Many travelers stop here to quench their thirst with
    a sip of this cool water.

    My mind wanders back to the 1800s to visualize the old meat house, where
    the apples, kraut, brine pickles, and other food were kept.

    The old barns and sheds are gone now. The bee hives and the slat wooden
    fence around the garden are also gone.

    Down a few yards from the old home flows the Chattooga River. On each side
    of the river, there once was rich bottom land; there the Nicholson clan planted
    corn and grain to feed their children, slaves, and livestock. They raised all of
    their food on the farm except sugar and coffee. They went to town twice a year
    to get supplies in the covered wagon" (Keowee Courier, Reach, 1981).

    Baylus Nicholson (Ira's son) sold the land in 1867 to William Ganaway
    (Bill) Russell of Macon County, North Carolina, for $1200 in California gold.
    "Russell had driven a herd of cattle to Sacramento during California's gold
    rush. [Other sources say he drove a team of oxen.] He made a tremendous profit
    on the cattle, but was unable to return home immediately due to the outbreak of
    the Civil War. Russell remained in California until the end of the War,
    operating a butcher shop in mining outposts. At the end of the War, Russell
    returned home with his fortune in gold sewed into the lining of his clothes.

    Russell persuaded Nicholson to venture west to likewise seek a fortune in
    gold. Nicholson sold his property to Russell in 1867 and headed west, only to be
    stricken with fever en route.

    The original Nicholson house had been burned by the Union forces during
    the Civil War. Ganaway Russell built the present house in 1867. He married one
    of the Nicholson daughters (Jane) in 1870. By 1880, the couple had seven
    children and were operating a self-sufficient farm. Fifty-two of Russell's six
    hundred acres were farmed; the rest were in forest. Crops grown by Russell
    included Indian corn, oats, rye, potatoes, and apples. Russell also had one
    horse, two mules, four milk cows, eleven beef cows, fifteen sheep, fifteen hogs
    and fifty-two fowl. In addition, he kept bees that produced fifty pounds of
    honey in 1879 (Tenth Census). According to Russell's granddaughter, he only went
    into Walhalla, the County Seat of Oconee County which was located approximately
    fourteen miles from the Russell House, twice a year for supplies" [Anderson
    Independent, 1981]. By 1900, the Russells had fourteen living children (Eleventh

    "The Russell place contained a blacksmith shop, a shoe shop and a knitting
    machine. The Russells made soap and molasses and built coffins. Russell served
    as the community doctor and dentist, pulling teeth and performing minor
    surgery" [Anderson Independent, 1981].

    Jane Nicholson Russell, who assisted her husband and was also proficient in
    medicine, was often called, day or night, to administer to the sick in the
    community. She rode horseback side-saddle and being small in stature, she could
    not mount her horse from the ground. Her husband built a platform of rock that
    she could climb up on the get on her horse. Some of their descendants still own
    and cherish the medical instruments they used.

    The Russell House served as a stagecoach inn for passengers traveling from
    Walhalla to Highlands. The Russells built additional rooms as this tourist
    business attracted widespread attention. During the summer months, the house
    became so crowded that it was necessary to pitch tents in the yard. The
    descendants of the Russell family recall as many as eighty people on hand at
    mealtime (USFS, 1979).

    "According to tradition, numerous prominent South Carolinians spent the
    night there" (Keowee Courier, 1935). "The house served as a Post Office from
    1910 to 1920. Otto Russell (son of Ganaway) continued to operate the 'Halfway
    House' during the 1920s" (USFS, 1979). Otto's wife, Mattie, is 75 years old and
    lives in Mountain Rest next door to her daughter, Louise Alexander [Seneca
    Journal, 1970].

    Kathryn (Kate) Russell Willingham, the last surviving child of Bill and
    Jane Russell, is in her eighties and has resided in Greenville since she married
    and left the mountains. Bill Russell had one piece of California gold left when
    Basil Willingham asked for his daughter Kate's hand in marriage. He gave them
    his blessings and had a wedding band made from the small piece of gold.

    The Russell House and two hundred acres of land were purchased by the U.S.
    Forest Service in 1970 and developed into a visitor information center. The
    displays depicted the history of the site from Cherokee Indian days through the
    Russell family period. Forest Service personnel lived on the site to protect it
    from vandalism and answer questions about the Sumter, Nantahala, and
    Chattahoochee National Forests. The center was closed in 1972 due to low use by
    the visiting public. "We've been under pressure to economize and we feel that
    based on its use, the high cost of maintaining the home and the vandalism to the
    barns doesn't make it economical to keep open," said Gene Cocke, a Resource
    Forester with the U.S. Forest Service [Seneca Journal, 1976].

    For the past several years the Forest Service has contacted historical
    societies and other civic organizations attempting to find a group who would be
    willing to adopt the house and restore it. Estimated cost for making the
    buildings safe for habitation and opening to the public is $100,000-$200,000. To
    date, no group has expressed serious interest.

    According to District Ranger Joe Wallace at the Stumphouse Ranger Station,
    there are some specific requirements that the Forest Service would require
    before giving a special use permit for the project: (1) the Forest Service would
    expect the house to be open to the public and continue the tradition of
    hospitality developed by the Russell family; (2) use of the property would have
    to be compatible with mountain culture and crafts rather than a tourist trap
    atmosphere with high development levels; and, (3) a schedule of refurbishment
    projects and planned activities would have to be approved by the Forest Service.

    "We are open for suggestions and will consider all proposals from groups
    who desire to preserve this site which is so much a part of the Mountain Rest
    history," Wallace said.--[JW]
    I go a great distance,while some are considering whether they will start today or tomorrow



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