Reminiscing about Life in the Watershed

The following story was published in the Hendersonville Times-News on July 25, 2005.
To view the photographs published with the story, visit

By Jennie Jones Giles
Effie Russell and her sister, Lessie Russell Hill, can point out where the old roads and drives led to homes in a community bordering the North and South Carolina state line.
For more than 200 years, a thriving mountain community was located in the Greenville, S.C., Watershed, which contains land in Henderson and Polk counties and Greenville County, S.C.
Today, the houses are gone, the roads have disappeared and the cemeteries are overgrown.
“Our house where we were born and raised was right across the line, down in the watershed,” said 84-year-old Hill.
Thursday, the sisters sat on the porch of Russell’s home in the Mountain Page community reminiscing about a home and place they can no longer visit.
Greenville, S.C., Watershed authorities forbid anyone to enter the watershed, even to maintain family cemeteries or visit homesteads that housed pioneer families for generations.
Russell and her parents, Hardy Russell and Julie Gordon Russell, used the money from the sale of their property in the watershed to buy property in the Mountain Page community.
Hill and her husband, U.G. Hill, took her share of the family property and bought a home in Tuxedo.
“All four of us kids had some land,” Hill said.
In the mid-1950s, the Ward, Revis, Gordon, Russell, Morgan, Staton, Case, Bell, Bradley, Pruitt, Thomas and Sharp families packed their belongings, herded up farm animals, dug up shrubbery and moved to Tuxedo, Green River, Mountain Page, Saluda, East Flat Rock and further south into South Carolina.
“They went every which way,” Hill said. “There were a bunch of houses there. It was all one community.”

Life in the Watershed

At one time the Russell family had about 320 acres in what is now the Greenville Watershed.
“We sold off some,” Russell said. “The watershed took about 200 acres of our land.”
The Russells and other families had earlier sold land to the Lazy City Development, which was building cabins in the forested area.
“They had cabins all over,” Russell said. “They had a lake and roads.”
There were fields, pastures, orchards and houses in the community near Walnut and Sally mountains.
“We were raised in a log house,” Hill said.
There was one large room, the living room, she said. There was a kitchen all the way across the back and one big bedroom.
Russell and Hill had two brothers.
“The boys’ bed was in the front room,” Hill said.
The bed the sisters slept in was in the one bedroom with their parents, at the opposite side of the room, she said.
“They had an iron bedstead,” she said. “Us children had wooden beds and the slats was falling.”
There was a large rock fireplace and a woodstove. Kerosene lamps were used at night.
“Mama cooked on the fireplace some,” Hill said.
“We didn’t have any electricity down there,” Russell said. “We put our milk and butter in the spring. We had a spring box. It would keep about a week. We had cows, chickens and hogs; and had our own eggs.
“We toted our water from the spring,” Russell said.
“I used to milk cows all the time,” she said. “I ran pigs and ran calves.”
“We took the eggs and butter to Saluda and swapped out for money to buy sugar and flour,” Hill said. “We took our own corn and had it ground for meal.”
“Mama could make a good pone of cornbread,” Russell said. “She was a good cook.”
“We walked to Saluda and carried the corn,” Hill said.
It was about a five-mile walk.
“Sometimes we took a wagon and horse,” Russell said. “Daddy and my oldest brother bought a car, then we took it in the car.”
“We grew our own cane and had molasses made from it,” Hill said.
The first Russell to settle in the community was the sisters’ great-grandfather.
“I heard some say he came from Tennessee,” Russell said. “His mother died and his stepmother was mean. He took corn to have it ground one day, hung the sack of corn up in a tree, left, came here and never went back.”
The Russell family made a living logging and farming.
“Mama canned most of the stuff we grew,” Hill said. “We ate whatever we could get. We ate wild meat: groundhog, possum, rabbit and squirrel.”
Hill said one of her favorite foods was possum.
“Mama would boil it and then take it out and bake it good and brown with sweet taters around it,” she said.
“She made blackberry jelly and dried apples,” Russell said. “We heeled our potatoes and buried our cabbage and turnips in the ground.”
“We had a peach orchard and she canned enough peaches to do all winter,” Russell said. “We had apple trees, too.”
In addition to canned beans, tomatoes and soups, they made “leather britches” beans.
“You break ’em and string ’em and then put ’em on a sheet to dry in the sun,” Russell said. “When they get good and dry, put them in a bag and hang it up. You cook them just like green beans, with fatback.”
The family pickled beans, beets and cucumbers and made kraut from the cabbage.
“And Daddy always grew big onions,” Russell said.
The fields were plowed with steers and a mule.
“Down on the mountain were bee trees,” Russell said. “The bees would swarm, go in the trees and make honey. We would watch the swarm to see where it would go, then go and hunt the tree. We cut the tree down and got the honey out of it.”
“We made a living logging,” Russell said. “We cut them with a cross-cut saw and dragged out locust posts. If we weren’t out in the field working, we were out lumber working.
“I logged with a yoke of steers (oxen),” she said.
“We walked about two and a half miles to church at Mountain Page,” Hill said.
“I’ve been going to Mountain Page all my life,” Russell said. “I remember my Daddy toting me up there.”
Some members of the community made plans to build a church. A cemetery was marked off and people were buried in the community cemetery, Hill said.
“They never did get to build the church,” she said. “The cemetery was back up on the mountain. There were a lot of graves. My Mama’s Grandpa and Granny are buried there and one of her brothers. Grandpa Russell had a sister buried there.”
“I remember going up and helping clean it off before we left,” Russell said.
To the sisters’ knowledge, no one has cleaned the cemetery or visited it since.
“We went to school at Fall Creek School on down the Greenville Road,” Hill said. “It was over two miles away. I went to the sixth grade and Effie went to about the fourth grade. They closed the school. Most people called it Possum Holler.”
When the weather was too bad for farming or logging or other chores, there were still the cows to milk or the chickens to feed.
“We would sit around the fire and roast taters and pop popcorn and eat,” Russell said. “We always had some dogs and cats and we played together.
“Everyone went to the table at the same time to eat, whether we were hungry or not,” she said. “Mama and Daddy made us mind, too.”
What is now forests containing wild pigs, bear and deer once was fields and pastures. There were not many deer in the area when they were growing up, the sisters said. There were no wild pigs rooting up people’s gardens.
“Once in a while a bear or a panther would come through,” Hill said.

Carrying on traditions

Russell still farms on her property in Mountain Page.
“I’ve just been outside hoeing the okra,” she said.
The house she lives in was built about 40 years ago, when they moved from the watershed.
“My brother, J.B., lived in the house in front,” she said.
There is a homemade wooden rack on the front porch of the white house to stack the wood for winter heating.
“I use wood and oil, too,” Russell said. “I cut the wood on the property. I use a chain saw now.”
There is an electric stove in the kitchen, along with a woodstove.
“If the power goes, I can cook on the woodstove,” she said.
Hill owns a home in Tuxedo, across the street from the former textile mill where her husband worked.
“We lived there 48 years,” Hill said.
Hill also worked off and on over the years at the textile mill.
As recently as the late 1970s, Russell and Hill plowed their gardens with steers.
“We got our picture in the paper one time when we were plowing and breaking the garden,” Hill said.
“I broke two steers after I come up here,” Russell said. “I plowed all this bottom with a turn plow. I broke it up every year with a horse and turn plow. Now I use a rototiller.
“I wish I did have a good steer,” she said. “If he was broke good, I could handle him.”
Instead of a smoke house as the family had in the watershed, a meat house sits on the property in Mountain Page.
“We killed the hogs and salted ’em down and hung the meat in the meat house,” Russell said. “With a smokehouse, you hang up the meat and smoke it.”
Russell still grows much of her food.
“The beans down in the bottom got drowned out this year,” she said. “I’ve got half-runner beans up here, too.”
The water comes from a spring above the house.
“I have a big spring down at the other end,” she said. “When I’m working in the garden, I can just go to the spring and get water to drink.”
The sisters still can their beans using methods learned from their mother.
A large black barrel filled with water is heated over an open fire. The glass jars containing the prepared beans are placed in the water.
Rags and clothes are put in the water to keep the jars from colliding and breaking.
“You can can three bushel at a time in a barrel,” Russell said. “It takes two days.”
One day is spent picking and breaking the beans, packing them in the jars, which are placed in the barrel of hot water.
“The next morning, you take them out,” she said.
They have a freezer now.
“We freeze some corn and freeze okra,” Hill said.
There are no chickens on the property. Something keeps killing them, Russell said.
Russell said she has had to kill the occasional copperhead, but recently rattlesnakes have appeared.
“I killed a little rattlesnake out there the other day,” she said. “It’s the first one I’ve ever seen here.”
The home is surrounded by flowers in every color of the rainbow. Some of the shrubs were brought with them when the family left the watershed area.
“Those four evergreens next to the light pole we brought up here,” Russell said. “We brought that snowball up here. We dug up our grape vines. They’re full of grapes now.
“There was no reason to run us off the mountain,” Russell said. “They took thousands and thousands of acres. I didn’t want to leave there. I was born there.”