Several weeks ago the Greenville Canoe and Kayak Meetup group had a paddling trip on Lake Hartwell up to the community of Newry in Oconee County. I had planned to go, but came down with a ferocious head cold and had to miss the trip. I had been looking forward to it, and was quite disappointed that I couldn’t make the trip.
So, this past Sunday I was able to rectify the problem, and do that paddling trip with my brother, Houston. The delay was probably for the best. Based on the photos I saw, I think we saw and experienced much more than the group that went on the earlier paddling trip. At least, it turned into an interesting day that was a combination of paddling and exploring an old mill.
Newry is a fascinating little community. It’s almost like a step back in time. Though close to Clemson, the area is somewhat isolated by its geography. At the top of the hill are multi-million dollar homes on Lake Keowee. Below the dam is the little mill village with humble wood frame houses and the now-abandoned mill.
The mill and its surrounding village were established on the banks of the Little River by Captain William Ashmead Courtenay and his company, Courtenay Manufacturing, in 1893. Courtenay named the community for his ancestral homeland in Ireland. The river was dammed to provide power for the mill, which produced cotton cloth.
In 1972 the Little River Dam was constructed just upstream from the Newry to create Lake Keowee. In 1975 the mill stopped production altogether. Many residents moved, but a few stayed.
I met up with Houston in Seneca, and we drove to the Lawrence Bridge, which spans the Keowee River branch of Lake Hartwell. When we arrived at the boat ramp next to the bridge the mists were just burning off of the lake. It was clear, but cool, and the water was certainly chilly as we set out.
We headed upstream on the Keowee River, passing under the Lawrence Bridge. The water was still, and we were making good headway. Both of us were in new Tsunami touring boats, and we wanted to see how quickly they would cruise.
Soon we came to the confluence of the Keowee and Little Rivers. Though free-flowing at one time, both “rivers” are now just upper extensions of Lake Hartwell. We took the Little River channel to the left, which narrowed considerable, to about the width of an Upstate river.,
The water levels looked quite low. There were exposed rocks all along the banks, and some of the boat docks looked like they were high and dry. Through the river channel there were lots of places where river weeds poked through the surface.
This part of Lake Hartwell is sparesely populated. There were only a very few houses along the banks. We could tell when we were getting close to Newry, though. There were fishing spots along the banks. Unfortunately, most of these spots were covered in trash, including old tires and chairs.
We came around a bend, and saw the tower and smoke stack of the mill looming ahead. Around one more corner, nad we found ourselves at the Newry Dam.
We wanted to land on the mill side of the river and see if we could actually get to the mill. However, the banks were steep, and there was a chain link and barbed wire fence running along the riverbank. After a bit of wrangling we managed to get out of the boats and get them pulled up onto the rocks on the opposite side.We climbed to the top of the dam to look for a way across. When we could find a way to get to the mill itself, we thought we might portage the dam and land on the other side, or possibly paddle on up the river as far as we could.
We decided that there were too many briers, and it would be more of a pain to get the boats moved than it was worth. So we loaded back up and headed back downstream, disappointed that we couldn’t get out and explore the mill.
About a quarter of a mile down from the dam, right before we reached the fishing spot, the bank leveled out a bit. Since we had been able to get out of the boats and pull them up onto steep rocks, we decided this might be an easier spot. We landed, pulled up the boats, and set off to explore.
The fence continued just for a bit, then ended, revealing a well-maintained dirt road that led to the mill. We looked around for no trespassing signs. Seeing none we walked on up to the mill.
At the mill itself a concrete bridge led from an elevated area into the mill tower. This looked like the main entrance to the mill. We couldn’t resist.
A winding staircase led up the tower to the upper floors. All the windows were broken, and there was graffiti and pealing paint everywhere.
We went on in and found a wide-open manufacturing floor, with bits of light creeping in from the windows. The place was full of shadows and textures, and looked like a photographer’s dream. I’ve kicked myself over and over for not bringing along my DSLR and tripod. As it was, I still found lots of opportunities for photos.
We climbed up the stairs in the tower to the next two floors. The third floor (actually fourth from the bottom) was the topmost, and with the roof missing in places was open to the sky. The bottom basement floor looked like the others, but was a bit creepier.
We could have stayed there the rest of the afternoon, but I grew concerned that our kayaks were left unattended. We reluctantly left and headed back to the boats.
The paddle back was relatively uneventful. As a simple paddling venue, the stretch was OK, but not necessarily memorable. It was the end point at Newry that made the trip worthwhile.
After we loaded up the boats, Houston had to head back to Georgia, but I wanted to visit the town by land. I drove on into the village of Newry and drove through the streets. The little mill houses, for the most part, looked neat and nicely maintained. It looked like it would be a close-knit community. There were a couple of small wood-framed churches, a post office, and the Newry Store.
It was an excellent day, both on and off of the water. I do want to go back to the old mill and explore, next time armed with better cameras.
NOTE: Although we didn’t see any No Trespassing signs coming from the river, I did see one that had been almost painted over and obscured by vegetation when I drove past the site. I don’t advocate breaking and entering, and this can be a dangerous site.
My Newry Flickr Set
Alan Russell’s photoset from the Greenville group’s trip
Several Videos of Newry Mill from other adventurous souls: