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Lancaster County SC Genealogy

Forty Acre Rock

by Louise Pettus

Forty Acre Rock in eastern Lancaster County, a National Natural Landmark, is the major attraction of the Flat Creek Heritage Preserve, part of a 1,300 acre tract held by the S.C. Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, Heritage Trust Program.

In his book, Geography of South Carolina, published in 1843, William Gilmore Simms gave a description of a large exposed granite mass, also in Lancaster County, called Flat Rock. What he said about Flat Rock, except for the size, could also have been written of Forty Acre Rock. Simms wrote, "Flat Rock is a mighty mass, 500 yards across, composed of a very closely cemented and hard gravel. Its name is derived from its level surface, which is covered with numerous pits or cisterns hollowed out, as is supposed, by the Indians for holding water."

At Forty Acre Rock, it is believed that the Indians ground their corn in hollowed pits on the rock's surface. One particularly large pit was known by the early settlers as "King Hagler's Punchbowl," in reference to the popular Catawba king who was slain by Shawnee Indians in 1763.

T.R. Magill of Lancaster made the rock the subject of a poem in his book of poetry written in 1850:

       Eternal rock, oh, where's that race,
             Of those who roamed your base around?
       Time echoes back that scare a trace
             Of all that race can now be found.

The rock has seen many uses and abuses. In 1900, earthenwork fortifications thought to date back to the pre-Revolutionary period were still visible as promoters dreamed of running excursion trains to the site. The rock for many years was mined to provide stone for local house foundations, chimneys and millstones.

There is a marking on the rock that is called "Devil's Footprint." The story is that the devil sat down on the rock to rest and left his mark there along with indentations made by heavy chains he dragged after him.

The small creek once had a grist mill on it, and a cave back of a waterfall is known locally as "Endless Cave." There are three caves that attract spelunkers, one at the rock and the other two about a quarter mile away. A beaver pond adds to the attraction of the area.

Actually, the rock is not 40 acres, but measures 14.7 acres, and rather looks more like the surface of the moon that like most rock formations. The depressed areas in the rock are home to 16 rare plant species. Twelve of the plants are endangered species. A tiny plant, amphiantus or "pool sprite," is the rarest. It is known to exist in only 5 other places in the world. All of the plants have adapted to their environment so well that, even though the pools dry up in the summer, the seeds survive and the plants bloom the following spring.

In the early 1980s, a Lancaster real estate broker and active Nature Conservancy member, Lindsay Pettus, and Bruci Alexander, Director of S.C.'s Nature Conservancy program began the task of protecting the rock and its exceptional habitat by persuading the numerous local landowners who owned "a piece of the rock," to sell their interest to the Nature Conservancy, a non-profit preservation society. The first parcel was purchased in 1984. Gradually it all came together and as early as 1984 colleges and universities began using the Flat Creek Natural area as a biological laboratory.

In 1987 the Nature Conservancy awarded Pettus its highest honor, the Oak Leaf Award, for his work in safeguarding the Flat Creek Natural Area. The following year, on the South Lawn of the White House, President Ronald Reagan recognized him as a national winner in the United States Department of Interior's "Take Pride in America Campaign." He was nominated for the award by the Lancaster Soil and Water Conservation District for his work.

Now, there is an organization, Friends of Forty Acre Rock (FoFAR), which manages and maintains the preserve area. The group, headed by Mark Grier, Lancaster attorney, with Jeff McLemore as preserve manager, recently won the "Respect" award from the South Carolina Wildlife Department for their work in cleaning up the site semi-annually.