Scull Shoals is a ghost town located in Greene County, Georgia adjacent to the Oconee River. People have lived at this site off and on for at least 8000 years and probably longer. Archaeologists have excavated Indian artifacts, including broken pottery pieces and arrowheads, representative of the Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian Cultures. After the Revolutionary War the U.S. government granted this land to war veterans. The Cherokee Indians were not too happy to have their land granted to Europeans, so they attacked the first settlements in 1788 or 1789. In response the settlers built Fort Clark here in 1793, and the Cherokees were eventually driven away from their homeland.
Location of Greene County, Georgia
What Scull Shoals looked like during the 19th century. Note the barren almost treeless landscape. It was surrounded by cotton and corn fields that were muddy moonscapes during winter.
The settlement was named for the beautiful rocky shoals in this part of the Oconee River. These shoals are no longer visible because eroded soil has covered them deep under sediment. The entire site was a magnificent virgin forest until European settlers ruined it. First, they built saw and paper mills, hydropowered by mill races they constructed. After they cleared all the trees, they planted row crops of cotton, corn, and wheat to be processed in flour mills, also hydropowered. During summer corn and cotton fields extended from horizon to horizon but winter landscapes consisted of mud as far as the eye could see. Short-sighted agricultural practices led to complete erosion of the topsoil into the river, covering the shoals.
Alternating floods, droughts, and recessions destroyed the economy of the village. Floods spoiled the grain and cotton waiting to be milled. Droughts caused low water when the mills couldn’t be hydropowered and were thus idled. By 1930 the town was abandoned. Land speculators sold the site to the federal government in 1959, and it became part of the Oconee National Forest. Today, a mixed forest of 2nd growth oak and pine surround the site. Water oak, sycamore, and sweet gum dominate the actual site of the town, and there is an undergrowth of bamboo cane. Some of the trees are quite large and may be over 80 years old. Ecologists believe it takes 1000 years to build 1 inch of topsoil. The original topsoil was 12 inches thick, so it will take 12,000 years of reforestation before the topsoil is as rich as it was in the 18th century.
We saw an armadillo when we visited Skull Shoals. The population of armadillos now outnumbers people here.
The kiosk in front of the old site of Scull Shoals.
The town general store.
The mill manager’s house.
This bridge spans the millrace. Due to the drought, there is no water in the millrace. Droughts contributed to the decline of Scull Shoals because they couldn’t run the mills without water powering them.
During times of normal water flow this millrace is filled with running water.
Note how low the Oconee River is. The beautiful shoals that inspired the name of the town have been covered by eroded soil and are no longer visible.
Big sycamore trunk. The federal government bought the site in 1959 and added it to the Oconee National forest.
Scull Shoals is now a nice picnic area. Dominant trees consist of water oak, sycamore, and sweetgum.
Armadillos outnumber people as permanent residents of Scull Shoals today.