Rock Creek Trail
Hi everyone! We are in the middle of a heat wave and the sun is shining bright and beautiful here in Great Falls. Let me tell you about a peaceful, soothing walk by a flowing creek that might just be the perfect place to cool off.
You know, Nature Based Tourism has been the goal for GFHTA and the Town of Great Falls for more than 20 years. Although much of the activity surrounding all the wonderful outdoor recreation coming to the area has come about in the past two years, one quite beautiful trail opened more than 12 years ago.
The Rocky Creek Trail is around 2.5 miles round trip along Rocky Creek. The trail head is basically in the
middle of the trail with a parking area just off U.S. 21 south of Great Falls. Part of the Carolina Thread Trail, this portion opened in 2009 and was funded by a grant from SCPRT to the Town of Great Falls. The trail is on a utility easement owned by the Town with surrounding property protected by Katawba Valley Land Trust.
It is a beautiful walk. As you approach the creek from a rather steep incline (the hardest part of the trail,
I promise) that leads to the trail, you can turn east (or left if you are directionally challenged) to head to
a waterfall, which is around 40 feet in height. The waterfall came about during construction of the Great
Falls Dam by The Southern Power Company (now Duke Energy) between 1905-1907. This area was one
of several that served as a quarry for stone used in the construction of the dam. A small un-named creek flows alongside the No. 3 mill village constructed by Republic Mill Company for its employees before plunging into the quarry and then into Rocky Creek. The amount of water ranges from a trickle in the driest months to a rushing waterfall after particularly hard rains.
The Town maintains the trail and KVLT manages the trail and area surrounding this portion of the trail.
In 2010, the trail and the land on both sides of the creek was designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. The designation marks its significance as a diverse and healthy wildlife habitat.
At the base of the entrance is a really nice beach area where an abundance of wildlife has been spotted. As you face the creek and turn right, you will be heading towards the rapids and the mill ruins. Follow the trail under the U.S. 21 bridge where you will see some beautiful hardwoods and river birches along
Eventually, you will come to a gate and fence. This is a portion of the trail that is on privately owned land. You are allowed to go through the gate. The rapids are beyond the gate. The fence is electrified but the gate is not. There is plenty of room to go through the gate. Just make sure you respect the area off the trail and do not go on to the privately held property.
If you look closely, you can see the ruins of a bridge which was one of the first across the creek. Large granite blocks in the creek mark the spot where this bridge was constructed and where the Gladden Mill was located. They are just downstream from the rapids.
Here is a description from Memoirs, Traditions and History of Rocky Mount and Vicinity By L.M. Ford written in 1904.
“The first bridge ever built across Rocky Creek, at what is now Gladden Mill, was destroyed by the
high creek of 1856. Aleck Baker, a free African-American, contracted to rebuild it. The bridge was finished in 1857 or 1858. This bridge was destroyed by a freshet in the creek in 1888. The stone pillars under the present bridge were erected by Robert Halliburton, contractor, and the bridge was put up by an Atlanta Firm. The whole was completed, and the bridge was thrown open to the public in 1898. The cost of this bridge is said to be twelve thousand dollars It is several feet higher than the other one.” (L.M Ford, 1904)
This “new” bridge was abandoned and fell into disrepair after the US 21 bridge was built.
There is evidence of the Gladden Mill, just down from the rapids, that can be seen from the trail. Another excerpt from the L.M. Ford history:
“A grist mill was built on Rocky Creek by a Hart some time in the 1830’s probably. James Pickett next came into possession. He being wealthy added a cotton gin and saw mill. Green Montgomery become possessor in the early 1850’s. He changed the cotton gin house into a flour mill. This was the
first mill to grind wheat in the community. These mills were all washed away by the high creek of 1856. At that time, they belonged to Samuel McAliley of Chester. He then put in a stone dam and built a fine mill house with a stone basement and put in it three sets of stones, two provided with bolting cloths, and a saw in the shed. An over-shot wheel about 18-20 feet in diameter and five to six feet wide furnished the power for all of this machinery. This was probably the finest mill in the upcountry at that time, 1858 and payed a handsome percent on the cost of about ten thousand dollars. It was burned by Sherman’s army. The present machinery was placed by Jesse Gladden in
1882. It is in the possession of his family at this time. (1904). (p.21)”
Mr. Ford’s account was nearly 120 years ago, so now there is only the faint ruins of the mill. But if you are observant you may be able to make out the ruins there.
There have been a number of mills along Rocky Creek since the 1770s and further up the creek, just beyond where the trail ends at Republic Golf Course, was a 19 th century carriage factory.
The Rocky Creek Trail makes a nice afternoon or early morning walk. Here is a link to the Carolina ThreadTrail site that gives you a little more information.
Soon we will have more trails to explore but for now, maybe you would like to check out this beautiful little corner of Chester County.