Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ninety Six National Historic Site (Blog Hike #365)

Trails: Walking Tour, Gouedy, and Cherokee Path Trails
Hike Location: Ninety Six National Historic Site
Geographic Location: southeast of GreenwoodSC (34.14717, -82.02345)
Length: 3.7 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: December 2011
Overview: A quiet nature trail hike steeped in Revolutionary War history.
Site Information:
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From Greenwood, head east on SR 34 to where it intersects SR 248 in the town of Ninety Six.  Turn right on SR 248.  Ninety Six National Historic Site is 2 miles ahead on the left.  Park in the small blacktop Visitor Center parking lot.

The hike: Now a tiny town in southeastern Greenwood County, in colonial times Ninety Six was the center of British power in the South Carolina backcountry.  The town was founded in the 1750’s at an important crossroads of several trading routes.  The Charleston Road led southeast to its namesake British stronghold, the Island Ford Road led southwest to Augusta, and the Cherokee Path led northwest to the Cherokee settlement of Keowee.  Supposedly the town’s location 96 miles from Keowee generated the town’s unusual name.
            By the start of the American Revolution, Ninety Six was the site of a British courthouse and therefore was the center of British rule in the area.  The first shots of the Revolution in the south were fired here on November 19, 1775 when 1900 loyalists and 600 revolutionaries fought to a draw.  A second battle would be fought here on June 18, 1781 when American leader Nathanial Greene laid siege to Ninety Six and tried to dislodge the British Loyalists from the South Carolina backcountry for good.  Greene failed to accomplish his objective in the battle, but less than a month later the British would abandon and burn Ninety Six in favor of settlements nearer the coast.
            After the war, the town of Ninety Six would be founded twice at nearby locations, and the land would be used for growing cotton.  Little thought would be given to preserving the site until the 1960’s when Greenwood County took the lead by creating an historic site at Ninety Six.  Archeological excavations began in the early 1970’s, and in 1976 the national park was established.
The earthworks and structures you see in the park today are remnants and reconstructions from the 1781 battle.  The earthen star fort used by the Loyalists is one of the best-preserved earthworks from the Revolutionary War.  Trenches dug by Greene’s forces to attack the fort can also be seen, and excellent interpretive signs give a great overview of siege warfare strategies of the 1700’s.  Overall, this seldom-visited park in rural South Carolina is a living textbook on the classical techniques of siege warfare.
            For historians and hikers, three trails give visitors access to the historic sites in the park.  The paved 1-mile Walking Tour takes visitors to the star fort and the historic town site.  The Gouedy Trail follows part of the old Charleston Road, while the Cherokee Path Trail follows the old Cherokee path to Keowee.  This hike combines parts of all three trails to give a grand tour of the park.
Paved Walking Trail through woods
            Start on the paved Walking Trail, which heads east between the Visitor Center on the right and park office/restrooms on the left.  The largest trees in this stand of upland second growth forest are pine trees, but some smaller red maples manage to live in the understory.  An interpretive sign tells of the land’s history since the battle.
            The trail crosses Spring Branch on a wide iron and wood footbridge before climbing gradually to reach the 1781 battlefield.  Spring Branch was the British’ only water source during the siege.  As you reach the edge of the battlefield, the trail crosses historic Island Ford Road, a crossing marked by another interpretive sign.  To the right lies Augusta, and to the left lies the island ford of the Saluda River for which the road is named.  The road received such heavy traffic that the treadway is still highly worn and discernible today.
Historic Island Ford Road
            At 0.4 miles, you reach an observation tower placed at the edge of the battlefield where Greene and the Revolutionaries would have camped.  From the tower, the trail winds back and forth around some siege trenches.  In order to get close enough to attack the Loyalist-held star fort, Greene’s men dug these zig-zag approach trenches to provide cover from Loyalist fire.  Most of the construction was done under the cover of darkness.  Originally these trenches would have been several feet high, but erosion has reduced them to their present height of less than 2 feet. 
View of battlefield from observation tower
            About 300 feet from the fort, you reach a reconstructed wooden rifle tower built to provide Patriot sharp-shooters a better angle into the fort.  Just past the tower lies the marked mine entrance.  In another classic siege technique, Patriots attempted to dig a mine from the siege trench to the wall of the star fort.  From this mine, they could ignite a keg of gunpowder and create an explosion that would breach the fort wall.  Unfortunately for the Patriots, the hard South Carolina clay made for slow digging, and the siege was abandoned before the mine reached the fort wall.
            The paved Walking Tour makes a sweeping left turn to reach the entrance to the star fort.  The fort’s eight-point-star construction allowed Loyalist riflemen clear vision and firing lines in any direction.  Inside the fort lies a traverse, a fall back position for the Loyalists in case the fort wall was breached, and a 25-foot well, an unsuccessful Loyalist attempt to obtain a water source other than the creek.
Walking beside the fort
            After investigating the fort, continue along the paved Walking Tour and, 0.65 miles into the hike, enter the historic town of Ninety Six.  No structures remain, but yellow posts mark the four corners of the historic town, and a directional sign marks the town center.  The paved path takes you down main street of historic Ninety Six.
            At the far side of town, the paved Walking Tour takes a sharp right turn to head back to the Visitor Center.  We will rejoin the pavement later, but for now continue straight to leave the pavement and begin the Gouedy Trail.  A brown park sign indicates that this is the historic Charleston Road.
Hike leaves paved trail
            At 0.9 miles, you reach the main trail intersection in the park’s unpaved trail system.  The Cherokee Path goes both right and left, and we will head both directions eventually.  For now, continue straight to remain on the Gouedy Trail.  The Gouedy Trail is named for Robert Gouedy, an Indian trader who ran a trading post in Ninety Six in the mid 1700’s.
            1 mile into the hike, the trail forks to form the loop portion of the Gouedy Trail.  Another brown sign directs you to turn right and hike the loop counter-clockwise.  Almost immediately the trail enters a grassy field.  Before the Revolutionary War-era town of Ninety Six was built, an earlier version of Ninety Six existed here in the late 1750’s and early 1760’s.  This field is all that remains of that settlement, which contained Gouedy’s trading post.
Gouedy's grave
            The trail exits the south side of the field and reenters the forest.  The trail’s yellow blazes help you identify where the trail reenters the forest.  At 1.3 miles, you pass the grave of Major James Gouedy, the son of Robert Gouedy.  The location of Robert Gouedy’s grave is unknown, but it is believed to be somewhere in this area.
            After crossing a wooden bridge over a wet area, the trail passes an unidentified Colonial-era cemetery marked by a white sign.  Local tradition states that this is a slave cemetery.  At 1.5 miles, you reach the bank of small, slow-flowing Ninety Six Creek.  At this point, the trail curves sharply left, joins a horse trail briefly, then turns left again to begin heading back to the main trail intersection.  Watch for the yellow blazes to ensure you do not accidentally follow the horse trail.
Ninety Six Creek
            At 1.8 miles, the trail rejoins the historic Charleston Road.  Shortly thereafter, you will close the Gouedy Trail loop and return to the main trail intersection.  The next segment of this hike turns right here and takes the Cherokee Path east to Star Fort Pond.  Note that we will return to this trail intersection in just under an hour, so you could shorten this hike by turning left here and heading directly for the Visitor Center.
            The blue-blazed Cherokee Path heads east through more young pine-maple forest.  The trail crosses a couple of horse trails before reaching the grassy area around Star Fort Pond at 2.5 miles.  A bench allows you the opportunity to sit and rest while watching the activity around the pond.  The pond is popular with anglers, but when I visited the pond on a cool Thursday afternoon, no other people were around.  A blue heron was perched on a log in the water.  Only the faint sounds of a logging operation to the south penetrated the tranquil setting.
Star Fort Pond

Blue heron on log
            The Cherokee Path ends at the pond, so you will need to retrace your steps 0.5 miles back to the main trail intersection, where you should continue straight to begin heading back to the Visitor Center.  The trail crosses Spring Branch on a wooden footbridge before climbing moderately.  At 3.2 miles, the Cherokee Path makes a sharp right turn.  This turn is unmarked except for a brown sign oriented parallel to the direction you are walking.  If you intersect a horse trail, you need to turn around and retrace your steps about 200 feet.
            The trail cuts across the corner of a meadow before reentering the woods, descending moderately, and entering a mowed grass area.  Walking straight ahead across the grass will return you to the paved Walking Tour, where you should turn left.  A short moderate climb will bring you to the reconstructed 1781 stockade fort.  Interpretive signs describe the wooden structure, which was built by the Loyalists to protect Ninety Six’ water supply.
Logan Log House
1781 Stockade
            Past the stockade, the trail passes one final point of interest, the restored Logan Log House dating to the 1700’s.  Some interpretive signs tell about the house, but it is only open during special events.  Just past the log house, the paved trail returns to the parking area, thus completing the hike.

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