The peaks of crumbling outbuildings peer through overgrown vegetation at the Russell Farmstead in Mountain Rest. Though travelers today might easily bypass this landmark without a second look, it was once an essential stop on the well-traveled route between Walhalla and the resort town of Highlands, North Carolina.
The land was purchased in 1867 by William Ganaway Russell, a wealthy cattle driver. Russell initially lived in an existing house on the property; when that dwelling burned, he replaced it with it with a spacious farmhouse. He also built several outbuildings. The following two photos show a dilapidated cattle barn.
Because the Blue Ridge Railway brought tourists flocking to Highlands only as far as Walhalla, Russell established a “half-way” house for travelers continuing their journey by stage coach. Russell enlarged his farmhouse in the 1890s with an L-shaped, two-story addition on the rear; the addition could accommodate up to 80 guests at a time.
Located along the Chattooga River, both the inn and its dining room were popular destinations for those seeking a place to stay for the night or simply a hot meal to sustain them. Despite the death of Russell in 1921 – and the advent of automobiles – the inn continued under the management of his family into the 1950s.
The federal government purchased the farmstead, which is located in the Andrew Pickens Ranger District of the Sumter National Forest, in 1970 as a National Forest Historic Site. The farm house and three outbuildings were destroyed by arsonists in 1988; stone ruins of the house remain on the site. Other existing outbuildings include barns, storage buildings, an ice house, a corn crib, and a spring house. Above stands the stone chimney of the farmhouse, and below, stone steps lead to a former entrance.
Russell Farmstead – Books and Related Images
Russell Farmstead – Historic Images
The photo below was submitted to us by Russell descendant Karen Fitzgerald. It depicts William and Jane Russell, with some of their children and their dog, gathered around the spring house.
Russell Farmstead – More Pictures
The property of the former Russell Farmstead includes several extant outbuildings, despite the loss of other structures due to arson. Below are two storage buildings, a corn crib, and a root cellar. The root cellar was built into the bank to help maintain its cooler temperature.
The Russell Farmstead is listed in the National Register as the Russell House:
The Russell House was constructed sometime after 1867 and considerably expanded around 1890 and in the early twentieth century. The house, which burned in 1988, was significant in the area of transportation for its role as a late nineteenth and early twentieth century stage stop and inn, which was operated by William Gannaway Russell (1835-1921). The inn provided accommodations for travelers between Walhalla and the mountain resort area around Highlands, N.C. The Russell House complex, which includes 10 agricultural outbuildings constructed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is also significant in the area of agriculture. The outbuildings are representative of the diverse aspects of a small, turn of the century Appalachian farmstead. The various outbuildings, including the ruins of a log barn, a spring house, outhouse, garage, corn crib, and potato cellar, among others, illustrate common building types and construction techniques used in the region. The main house, two storage buildings, and a privy were destroyed by fire on May 14, 1988.
Walter A. Russell says
My name is Walter A. Russell and I’m trying to locate any descendants of William Ganaway and Jane Nicholson Russell. I enjoyed the pictures and comments in your website very much. The pictures by Jim Jenkins were especially great because they showed me what I missed when I visited the House after its burning in 1988. William Ganaway and I descend from a common ancestor, Matthew Russell and Jane McIntire, born c. 1735 and 1741, respectively.
I authored a book, “Descendants of Matthew Russell and Related Families of Jackson Co., AL: A Collection of Genealogies,” in 2009, which includes the immediate family of William and Jane Nicholson and a brief description of the Half-Way House.
Your website reflects the names of three persons who contributed to your forum, and appear to be descended from William and Jane: Lou Jean Johnson, Karen Russell Fitzgerald, and Jim Jenkins. (It appears that Jim Jenkins is descended from Verlinda Lamar Jenkins, the second wife of Matthew Russell; the book includes Verlinda’s line.) Genealogy is a hobby and I’m trying to learn more about the descendants of Matthew and Jane as well as meet and possibly share family lineages and traditions with other interested cousins. If you are a descendant, please respond to this comment or email me at email@example.com. Thanks!
Lou Jean Johnson says
I have a lot of information on the Russell house. The place belonged to the Nicholson family before William Ganaway Russell bought it from my great, great grandfather Nicholson in 1867 with the gold he brought back from California. Russell was married to Jane Nicholson.
SC Picture Project says
We would absolutely love to hear more, if you would like to reach out to us via email, our address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks so much!
Stacey B. says
I stopped by and toured the outbuildings. It was neat to see and look up online.
Karen Fitzgerald says
Bill and Jane Russell are my maternal great-great-grandparents. My middle name is Russell, after Bill. He passed 42 years prior to my birth of 10/16. They had 15 children. I have pictures of most of them around the spring house, plus others.
SC Picture Project says
How awesome to see this connection via your comment! We would love to see those photos if you are interested in sharing them. Our email address is email@example.com.