Cruising along Scenic Highway 11, golfing in green valleys, and relaxing upon decks perched above Lake Keowee, it’s often easy to forget – or even to realize- the tremendous challenge this place must once have been to early inhabitants of the area.
Beneath venerable cedars, amidst tangled plantings of vinca and ivy, and in the quiet shadow of ancient mountains, stand the gravestones of many of those who pioneered this land, and whose legacy remains, although many of their names have been forgotten or erased from their headstones by time. When the “rude forefathers” whose remains were interred into these cemeteries arrived in this place, the land was raw, uncultivated, unexplored and often uninhabitable to all but the very sturdiest of prospective inhabitants.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Oolenoy Baptist Church graveyard houses the earthly remains and monuments marking the resting place of “the peace-loving Cherokee”, “faithful slaves”, and European pioneers like Cornelius Keith, who came to this area from his native Scotland some 260 years ago. His son fought for the supremacy of this land in the Revolutionary War, and rests nearby. Numerous others, interred beneath mossy stones, were the victims or survivors of the Civil War.
One of the latter, buried at Oolenoy churchyard, is the great-grandfather of Justin Winter & Associates’ Martha Toy. He was Matthew Hendricks, who served in the Confederate Army, and miraculously survived the battles of First and Second Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg, Gaines Mill, Fredricksburg, Cold Harbor and Missionary Ridge, finally returning to the Pumpkintown community where he raised a family and farmed until he passed away at the great old age of 102 years! What stories he must have had to share, and what memories he must have amassed, after so many years of a life lived among these hills, and in an uncertain and exciting time in this country’s history.
Countless untold stories of the Cherokee and of the slaves are also buried in such country graveyards, beneath rough stones with no writing, or with simply a Christian name, hand-engraved.
Cliffs and Reserve residents and descendants of the first settlers alike owe much to those who carved this place from the wilderness, and who put a human stamp and mark upon an area we now treasure as both scenic and historic. A prayer and a grateful thought are acceptable homage to the lives of those lived before us in this historically rich area.
Oolenoy Baptist Church is located just north of Hwy. 135, east of Hwy 8, on Miracle Hill Road. Friendship Cemetery, which houses the remains of Revolutionary and Civil War veterans, is just East of the Sunset Post Office, and south of Highway 11. McKinney Chapel graveyard, in The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards, harbors the simple, unengraved tombstones of African American and Cherokee settlers, along with those of the early European pioneers of the area. Numerous other cemeteries in the immediate area harbor interesting, sobering, and uplifting testament to the early inhabitants of Pickens and Oconee counties.