One of my goals for Jeeptographer is to inspire people to find adventure in their own backyard. I think sometimes we think that ‘wonder’ is something that can only be achieved with fancy vacations and exotic definitions, and yes those are wonderful things, but the world is quite beautiful even in the most seemingly mundane places.
When I lived in Athens, GA, I very often went out to explore the long country roads. One such trip found me on the long stretch of highway between Greensboro, GA and Watkinsville, GA, in a section of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. A small sign indicated directions to historic Scull Shoals, and upon following it, I stumbled upon Georgia’s first papermill, built in 1811.
To be fair, the land was settled by humans over 10,000 years ago, long before Hernando de Soto and his spaniard troops overtook the lands with devastating illnesses and bacteria to which the Native American populations had no natural defenses against. Like so much of Georgia, the true history of the land is buried under the European colonization of the land, which is what remains most prevalent.
There are few indications that the land was permanently settled until 1782, when it became a colonial settlement. After intense conflict with local Native Americans, Fort Clark was erected to try to protect the colony against Creek raids.
The papermill was erected in 1811, but was preceded by a cotton gin, grist mill, and growing colonial population. The settlement was fairly prosperous until after the War of 1812, when the operators were bankrupted by 1815. Despite financial hardship, the village on site continued to expand on the prosperity of farming cotton.
Scull Shoals grew to contain mills, boarding houses, stores, a large warehouse and store, a distillery, a covered toll bridge and many other accompanying business buildings. In 1845, the wooden mills burned, but the town was resilient enough to rebuild the structure in brick by 1846. There were over 2000 spindles and looms, and 4000 bales of cotton, a value at the time of over $200,000 which employed more than 600 people. At one time, Scull Shoals was home to Georgia Governor Peter Early.
The mid-century was not kind to Scull Shoals (nor many other small Georgia establishments). The seasons were devastated first by not enough water, and then entirely too much. In 1887, the village flooded for four full days, and it’s covered bridge floated off downstream. The devastation to the product left ruined in the mill and in the company store brought economic devastation of which the village never recovered.
Over production of cotton stripped the top 8-9 inches of topsoil from the shoals, and violent flooding continued in ever increasing frequency, continuing to this day. As the town became less profitable and sustainable, labor forces moved elsewhere. By the World Wars, much of the settlement was scrapped for the war efforts, including the machinery and bricks from the buildings.
These are the remaining walls of the company store, which once housed all of the valuable goods the town produced as well as everything a citizen would need to survive.
The most intact structure is the arched bridge, leading from the flat grounds of the village to the remains of the power plant and paper mill.
There are small piles of dismantled structures through the grounds, and even further into the treeline if you follow some local trails. This particular pile is what is left of the Superintendent’s House, probably destroyed during the World War recovery.
The park-like atmosphere of Scull Shoals is maintained by dedicated park rangers and a host of volunteers that oversee the generally forgotten historical site. I love visiting Scull Shoals on a hot summer day, sitting on the large rocks in the river where the bridge once stood, reflecting on the stories and lives lived and forgotten on the grounds.
I always spot some sort of wildlife while I’m visiting, probably because of the lack of human traffic in the area. It’s the perfect spot for a shady summer picnic, just make sure to pack some bug spray!