2017-10-20 / Front Page

Park Ranger leads group on tour of Columbia Canal

From Staff Reports


Photos by Phillip Jones Photos by Phillip Jones In 1820, construction started on a canal to navigate the rapids where the Broad River and the Saluda River form the Congaree River. It used a natural ravine that was between the City of Columbia and the Congaree and Broad Rivers.

The canal started between Lumber (currently Calhoun) and Richland Streets. It ran along the Congaree for about 3.1 miles. It ended across from Granby Landing just north of the current railroad bridges across the Congaree.

The canal was completed in 1824. It was 12 ft. wide and 2.5 ft. deep north of Senate Street. South of Senate Street, the canal was 18 ft. wide and 4 ft. deep. It had an 8 f t . wide towpath on either side.

The canal had four lifting locks and one guard lock for the 34 ft. descent of the river. A diversion dam was built across the Broad River to al low access from the Saluda Canal. There were three waste weirs to prevent flooding of the canal.


Ranger Spencer Watson leads a group tour of the Columbia Canal Sunday, October 15 showing and telling the history of CCI and the Columbia Canal and what happened during the Flood of 2015. Ranger Spencer Watson leads a group tour of the Columbia Canal Sunday, October 15 showing and telling the history of CCI and the Columbia Canal and what happened during the Flood of 2015. The canal enabled navigation of the Broad/ Congaree River System and created inexpensive, efficient transportation across South Carolina.

Its importance decreased after development of railroads in Columbia in 1842, but the canal continued to be used for local commerce and to provide water power for local industries.

During the Civil War, the canal was leased to the Confederate government. After the war, it reverted to the state.

In 1888, as part of the post-Civil War movement to industrialize the South, the state enlarged the canal to provide a power source to the industrial development of Columbia. The enlarged canal was completed in 1891.

The canal served the establishment of mills and factories in Columbia and played an important role in the growth of the city. The canal utilized hydroelectric power to drive Columbia’s first textile mill (The building is now the S.C. State Museum.).


Park Ranger Spencer Watson stands on canal showing various parts to the visitors. Park Ranger Spencer Watson stands on canal showing various parts to the visitors. Since 1891 the Columbia Canal has served as a power source for the City of Columbia. It was listed in the National Register in 1979.

The Columbia Canal during the Flood of 2015

In October 2015, sections of the Columbia Canal col lapsed as a result of what is known as the 1,000 year flood. After the incident, the water contained in the canal emptied into the Congaree River, and the city’s drinking water was compromised for ten days . In order to solve the problem, the South Carolina National Guard and city engineers built a temporary dam above the breach, which al lowed most of the canal to fill with water.


Inside the pump house, Ranger Spencer Watson shows the visitors the pumps used to pump water from the river to the canal for water and to produce electricity. Inside the pump house, Ranger Spencer Watson shows the visitors the pumps used to pump water from the river to the canal for water and to produce electricity. Multiple agencies are involved in the process of assessing what to do to repair the Columbia Canal, taking all factors into account, such as the canal’s historical significance, the opportunity for sustainable energy, and the city’s need for an efficient and reliable water source. It appears the city is still a few years out from being able to start work on repair ing the canal. Making a decision on a plan is just the first of many steps the city must take.



Old pipes of the pump house still hold on to history as vines cover them. Old pipes of the pump house still hold on to history as vines cover them.

Canal overflow locks where water flows when water is too high. Canal overflow locks where water flows when water is too high.

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