Petroglyphs site at Hagood could become solid draw

By Julie Howle
Greenville, South Carolina (AP) November 2010

Construction could start later this year on a S.C. Rock Art Center designed to protect and preserve petroglyphs that were chiseled into the landscape centuries ago at what is now the Hagood Mill site.

The site and its rock carvings are "likely some of the oldest cultural artifacts, cultural elements that we have in the Upstate that still exist," said Allen Coleman, executive director of the Pickens County Museum and Hagood Mill Historic Site and Folklife Center.

Ed Bolt, site manager for Hagood Mill, said more than 40 petroglyphs, 17 of which are human figures, were discovered in a large rock outcropping at the site in 2003.

Bolt and Coleman said it is believed the carvings date back more than 1,000 years and likely were created by prehistoric American Indians.

Coleman said fundraising for the center started about five years ago. A renewed push began in 2009 after efforts had been stalled by the struggling economy.

He said they have raised $200,000 and have asked Pickens County for a maximum of about $69,000 to help build the center.

"We're hoping to not have to use that much" county money, Coleman said.

Pickens County Council's administration and finance committee has voted to contribute about $45,000 from local accommodations tax money, which is used for tourism-related projects, if that money is required after the group's $200,000 is used, said Jennifer Willis, a county councilwoman and member of the committee.

Willis and G. Neil Smith, County Council chairman and chairman of the committee, said the vote didn't include contingency funding, which was about $25,000 of the $69,000 request.

Pickens County Administrator Chappell Hurst said County Council will now have to vote on providing the money, with a decision expected at the Dec. 6 meeting.

Willis and Smith, who said the committee approved the project, said these numbers are estimates and that County Council could go back and vote to give more if some of that $25,000 is needed.

"We're not fussing over the numbers because we really don't know what the real numbers are going to be until the specs are sent out and the bids come back in," Smith said.

Wayne Kelley, chairman of the Pickens County Cultural Commission, the advisory board that operates the Pickens County Museum and Hagood Mill historic site, said they expect busloads of people to come to the center.

"We expect this to be a real boon to tourism here," he said. "This can have a definite economic impact for another century to come at least."

Coleman said it is hoped that construction will start later this year on the Rock Art Center building and be finished in the spring or early summer. After that, work will begin on displays inside.

He said the Rock Art Center could open to the public next year, and according to Bolt it will have two rooms.

"One room will be the display and preservation of the petroglyph rock that's out there now, properly lit to exhibit to the people," Bolt said. "The other room will be a photo gallery and museum of the other rock art."

Coleman said the majority of the photographs will be of petroglyph sites in the Upstate as well as some from other areas in the state.

The Rock Art Center will also have impressions of petroglyphs that people can feel, primarily serving as an interactive display to make the center more accessible for the sight-impaired, but also enhancing the experience for all visitors, Coleman said.

He said the plan is to make the site "as accessible as possible" for anyone with mobility, sight or other impairments or challenges.

"When you travel North America, when you travel the world and go to archaeological sites, most of them are not handicap accessible because of their geographic location," Coleman said. "You just can't get to them."

Coleman said many sites are also not accessible to the general public because they are in hard- to-reach places or on private land.

He said sites like this are few and far between because many have been "totally wiped out" over the years by everything from construction to acid rain.

"They're just going away," Coleman said.

Currently there is no admission cost for Hagood Mill or the museum, Coleman said, but a "minimal" admission fee is being considered to help pay for staff and upkeep.

The project, he said, is "preserving some of the most pure heritage of this country, of this world, our indigenous people."