On July 3rd, 2021, I was invited to a private tour of Lake Jocassee in upstate, SC. The tour departed from Devil’s Fork State park. I enjoyed learning the history of the lake from our tour guide. She stopped at various waterfalls and allowed us time for a short hike into Gorges State park. This location in the North West of the state is simply gorgeous.
The area where Lake Jocassee is located today was Cherokee Indian land before being claimed by settlers. A legend tells of Jocassee, a young Indian girl from the Oconee tribe who fell in love with a warrior from the Estatoe tribe that lived on the opposite side of the Whitewater river. Her brother killed her lover. Distraught, she walked across the water to the opposite side looking for his ghost. Jocassee means “Place of the lost one”
Settlers began arriving to the Jocassee valley in the 1700s. When railroads were constructed, a number of inhabitants slowly abandoned their dwellings to work in area mills. The valley became touristic. The Attakulla lodge, named after Jocassee’s father chief Attakulla, was a popular spot where people flocked to escape the summer heat. It opened for business in 1904. Next to it was the Whitewater Inn that became The Jocassee Camp for girls. Both structures as well as Mount Carmel Cemetery and possibly other vestiges from that time are still standing at the bottom of the lake. Some were spotted by divers in 2016, 300ft below the surface mostly preserved by the frigid deep water and lack of oxygen.
Four rivers supply Lake Jocassee’s water: Whitewater, Toxaway, Horsepasture and the Thompson rivers. The valley is home to the rare Oconnee Bell flower which is protected as a vulnerable plant. Named waterfalls that can be seen from the lake include: Laurel Fork Falls, Mill Creek Falls, Wright Creek Falls, Whitewater Falls, Thompson Creek Falls
In 1963 Duke Power began purchasing thousands of acres from land owners in preparation to construct Lake keowee and Lake Jocassee. The valley’s rivers were dammed to create the Jocassee Hydroelectric Station. Lake Jocassee was built in 1973 in partnership with the State. It extends 7,500 acres with 75 miles of pristine shoreline. Our guide pointed out that commercial construction is not allowed on its shores. Indeed we saw very few buildings as we toured this beautiful lake.
Gorges State Park, Foothill Hiking bridge