Flat Rock of the Old Time: Letters from the Mountains to the Lowcountry, 1837-1939

Flat Rock of the Old Time: Letters from the Mountains to the Lowcountry, 1837-1939

Flat Rock of the Old Time: Letters from the Mountains to the Lowcountry, 1837-1939

Flat Rock of the Old Time: Letters from the Mountains to the Lowcountry, 1837-1939


The intoxicating "champagne air" of Flat Rock, North Carolina, captivated residents of lowcountry South Carolina in the nineteenth century because it offered them respite from the sickly, semitropical coastal climate. In Flat Rock of the Old Time, editor Robert B. Cuthbert has mined the collections of the South Carolina Historical Society to publish a documentary history of the place and its people. While many visitors came and went, others chose to become permanent residents. Among the Flat Rock settlers were some of the most distinguished South Carolina gentry: Blakes, Rutledges, Hugers, and Middletons.

They established the Episcopal parish church of St. John in the Wilderness Church, where many of them are buried. They also supported a local economy that helped provide livelihoods to native residents who supplied them with goods and services. Visiting each other daily, they swapped news and gossip, sharing their joys and burdens. Lowcountry families refugeed to Flat Rock during the Civil War, thereby escaping the devastation of the coast but not the revolutionary consequences of the war, such as emancipation, occupation, and economic collapse. And through it all they wrote letters. Some refugee-residents sent off missives every day, describing the delicious weather, the activities of their neighbors, and the entwining relationships of family, faith, business, and recreation that sustained Flat Rock.

The century chronicled in Flat Rock of the Old Times is viewed with a combination of nostalgia and clear-sightedness, not only by Cuthbert but also by his correspondents. Guided by the editor's copious introduction, annotations, and textual apparatus, readers experience the conjunction of people and place that was Flat Rock.


They were a grand race those gentlemen of the old time. Self willed and
overbearing perhaps, but with no meanness or paltryness about them.
Theirs was the strength of the lion.

Langdon Cheves, 27 October 1905, on hearing
of the death of Richard Henry Lowndes (1815–1905)

A brief history of old flat rock and its people

A traveler in the early 1800s coming up from South Carolina to the crest of the Blue Ridge would have discovered a country of great natural beauty and an invigorating climate. Scattered settlers had already cleared home sites among these rich forests of pine, hemlock, and oak. a small farm was identified by a tight log cabin or house, with a cow, a horse, chickens, and a few pigs, along with a modest orchard of plum and cherry, and several rows of corn, potatoes, cabbage, and beans. a little distance away, Kalmia and rhododendrons sheltered a fast stream of pure water. Along the threaded creeks of the flatlands, the soil was particularly fertile and suited for crops. Neighbors lived some distance away. Dirt roads cut through the woods, disappearing over the undulating countryside. While the far views of high mountains might tempt the dreamer, the settler’s life was too severe to yield to romanticizing.

As the settlement grew, there was need for a geographical identity, and the name chosen, an obvious one, was Flat Rock, for the several acres of bare granite coming to the surface on both sides of the main road. When travelers reached the rock, they were in Flat Rock. Until recently, Native Americans had used the site for ceremonies, but they were now almost entirely gone, moved west first by the Treaty of Hopewell in 1785 and finally in the Trail of Tears in 1838. in 1931 Langdon Cheves, who had spent time at Flat Rock since before the Civil War, replied to an inquiry, “No Indians at Flat Rock in my time, except Cooper’s and the last of the Mohicans!”

The earliest known commercial enterprise in Flat Rock was Colonel John Earle’s grist mill on Earle’s Creek, established in 1791. Earle (1737–1804), a native of Virginia, moved to the Spartanburg, South Carolina, area before the . . .

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