The Lost Jewel: A History of the Jocassee Valley
The Jocassee Valley, now mostly submerged beneath the pristine waters of Lake Jocassee in South Carolina, has a history as enchanting as the lake’s crystalline surface. From ancient tribal civilizations to 20th-century communities and the engineering marvel that created the reservoir, the valley’s narrative is a tale of cultural intersection, natural beauty, and man-made transformation.
Native American Beginnings:
The name “Jocassee” itself has indigenous origins, derived from the Cherokee word “Tsuga-sagi,” which translates to “Place of the Lost One.” This name is tied to Native American legends, specifically one tragic love story between a Cherokee maiden and a Chaga warrior. Such tales underscore the cultural significance the valley held for indigenous tribes, chiefly the Cherokee and earlier predecessors.
European Settlers and Expansion:
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, European settlers began to make their presence felt in the region. The fertile lands of the Jocassee Valley attracted farmers, while its rivers and forests lured trappers and hunters. As settlers established homesteads, they often came into conflict with the Native American populations, leading to displacement of the indigenous tribes over time.
A Flourishing Community:
By the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jocassee Valley had grown into a close-knit community. Though isolated, the residents built schools, churches, and cemeteries, creating a life deeply connected to the land. Agriculture, particularly apple orchards, became a primary economic activity, alongside logging and other pursuits.
The 1960s and 1970s saw a pivotal shift for the valley. As the demand for electricity and power generation grew in South Carolina, the Duke Power Company envisioned the Jocassee Valley as an ideal location for a hydroelectric project. The decision was made to create a reservoir, which meant the eventual submersion of the valley.
Many residents sold their properties, and entire communities were uprooted. Buildings were either moved, dismantled, or left to be submerged. Among the submerged structures were homes, bridges, and even cemeteries. By the time Lake Jocassee was filled in 1973, the heart of the valley had vanished beneath its waters.
Lake Jocassee Today:
Today, Lake Jocassee is a popular destination for boating, fishing, and scuba diving. Beneath its surface, remnants of the old valley lie preserved, offering a haunting yet fascinating underwater exploration. The lake has not only become an essential hydroelectric resource but also a reservoir of biodiversity, as it’s surrounded by protected lands and parks.
While the waters of Lake Jocassee shimmer with beauty, they also reflect a bygone era, a reminder of the valley’s rich history, from ancient tribes to 20th-century communities. The tale of Jocassee is a testament to nature’s resilience and the ever-evolving relationship between humanity and the land.
About Claudia Hembree
Claudia Whitmire Hembree was born and raised in Jocassee Valley and lived there until 1957 when she left to attend Winthrop College. After graduation, she taught school in Greenville County at Carolina High School, Tanglewood and Sevier Middle Schools. She retired from Dacusville Middle School in Pickens County. While there, she and a group of students wrote and published Down Home: Dacusville Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow which is a community history of the Dacusville area.
Claudia is also the author of Jocassee Valley, A Community History of Jocassee, South Carolina that is now inundated by Lake Jocassee. The book was once available through this website but is now out of print.
Hembree lives in Taylors, SC and is an active member of Taylors First Baptist Church.