Scull Shoals Experimental Forest

Out of the ruins of a mill town

Ruined building at Scull Shoals on the Oconee National Forest. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
Ruined building at Scull Shoals on the Oconee National Forest. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.


The 4,500-acre Scull Shoals Experimental Forest (Scull Shoals) near Athens, Georgia, has served as the site of silvicultural research studies since the 1930s. In 1959, when the experimental forest was officially designated part of the Oconee National Forest, researchers started studies on the role of fire in silviculture, the development of wildlife habitat, and the regeneration of the hardwood ecosystems of the southern Piedmont.

The site also features the ruins of Scull Shoals, once a major textile and mill town between Atlanta and Savannah. Settled in 1784 on the Oconee River, at its height Scull Shoals included grist mills, sawmills, cotton gins, and a four-story textile mill that employed over 600 people. The textile mill was destroyed in 1887 by a flood that covered the entire town for four days and left it in economic ruin. What remained of the town became part of Scull Shoals Experimental Forest in 1936, and is now an historic recreation area on the Oconee National Forest. 

Research at Scull Shoals during the 1960s and 1970s provided a better understanding of littleleaf disease, which is caused by a complex of factors including the fungus Phytophthora cinnamomi, low soil nitrogen, and poor internal soil drainage. Littleleaf disease affects the shortleaf pines growing on the badly eroded land that once typified the southern Piedmont.

The feasibility of establishing intensively managed, short-rotation woody crop systems to produce fiber was also demonstrated by research at Scull Shoals in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The types of systems developed there are now used in locations across the United States to produce biofuels for local energy use.

Read more about the town site, trails, and archaeological studies at Scull Shoals.

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