Columbia Canal – Columbia, South Carolina
South Carolina | SC Picture Project | Richland County Photos | Columbia Canal
The Columbia Canal was built in 1824 by Irish immigrants to allow river traffic to bypass the rapids where the Saluda and Broad rivers join to form the Congaree River. It was part of a plan by the State of South Carolina to provide a direct water route between the Upstate and Midlands. By the 1840s, the advent of railroads made the canal obsolete as a means of transportation. By 1888, the Columbia Canal was converted to provide hydroelectric power to industries such as the Columbia Mill (now the SC State Museum), which was completed in 1894. It still operates today and provides electricity to Columbia’s residents.
A 2.9-mile-long paved path for walkers and cyclists runs along the canal, providing views of wading birds and spider lilies (Hymenocallis floridana).
The Columbia Canal is listed in the National Register:
The Columbia Canal has played an important role in the commercial and industrial development of Columbia. Historically significant for its influence on the city’s growth, the Columbia Canal is also a notable example of the engineering expertise of the nineteenth century. Completed in 1824, the canal was designed to enable the navigation of the Broad and Congaree Rivers at their confluence in Columbia. It was part of the state-sponsored system of internal improvements designed to create inexpensive and efficient transportation facilities across South Carolina. Although its importance as a means of transportation significantly decreased after the arrival of the railroad in Columbia in 1842, the canal continued to be used for local commerce and provided water power for small industries. The Columbia Canal was the only canal project in the state that remained in use after the advent of the railroad.
During the Civil War a portion of the canal was leased to the Confederate government. After the War, the canal passed through several owners before reverting to the state. In 1888, as part of the post-Civil War movement to industrialize the South, the State of South Carolina decided to enlarge the canal as a means of providing a power source to aid in the industrial development of Columbia. The enlarged canal was completed in 1891. The canal subsequently served as an impetus to the establishment of mills and factories in Columbia, thereby playing an important role in the growth of the city. In addition, the Columbia Canal was the site of one of the first power houses in the nation to utilize hydroelectric power to drive a large textile mill. Since its completion in 1891 the Columbia Canal has continuously served as a major power source for the city of Columbia.
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