ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Augusta Canal National Heritage Area
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Augusta Canal National Heritage Area
Augusta Canal
Built in 1845 to provide industrial power, the
Augusta Canal is the last such canal in the nation
still used for its original purposes.
Augusta Canal Headgates
The headgates of the canal
are at Savannah Rapids Park,
which also offers stunning
views of the river rapids.
Rae's Creek Waterfall
The Augusta Canal passed
over Rae's Creek by way of a
remarkable aqueduct. The
creek today is popular for is
Augusta Canal National Heritage Area - Augusta, Georgia
A 19th Century Canal in Georgia
Copyright 2012 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
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Canal Interpretive Center
The interpretive center is at
the restored Enterprise Mill
complex. It features exhibits
and other information on the
history of the Augusta Canal.
Petersburg Boat Tours
A variety of different tours of
the canal are available on the
36-passenger open boats.
They leave from the Augusta
Canal Interpretive Center at
Enterprise Mill.
The Augusta Canal is the centerpiece of
Georgia's first national heritage area and is
one of the most scenic and fascinating
historic landmarks in the South.

Located in the Georgia city for which it was
named, the first stage of the canal was built
in 1845-1846 as part of an impressive effort
by the leaders of Augusta to harness water
from the Savannah River as a source of
power, water and transportation for their

Like many Southerners of the time, they
realized that the South was becoming more
and more dependent on the manufacturing
centers of the North. With tension growing
between the regions, the South's need for its
own factories was obvious.

As a result, an effort was begun in Augusta to
construct an industrial canal that promoters
believed would lead to dramatic growth in
manufacturing in the city. Key among these
promoters was Henry H. Cumming, a
visionary who believed that the building of the
canal could help Augusta soon become the
"Lowell of the South." The reference was to
the important manufacturing center of Lowell,

Cumming was right. The first part or "level" of
the canal was completed in 1845-1846 and
almost immediately new factories came to
Augusta. The first of these were a saw and
grist mill and the Augusta Factory, but they
were far from the last.

A marvel of 19th century engineering, the
Augusta Canal worked by diverting water
from the
rapids of the Savannah River
through Augusta and then back into the river
again. The project produced a flow of water
strong enough to turn the turbines of large
textile mills, while also providing a source of
drinking water for the growing city and a route
of transportation as well.

The canal was built by both free and slave
laborers. Some came from area farms and
plantations, while others came from crews
such as those of the Georgia Railroad. It took
roughly 18 months for 200 men to complete
the first level and the headgates opened for
the first time on November 23, 1846.

It took another three months for the first boat
to pass through the canal, but from the
moment the first water flowed into its channel
it was obvious the project would be a
success. A study undertaken on behalf of the
Canal Commissioners determined that with
5-feet of water, the Augusta Canal could
produce sufficient horsepower to turn two
large spindle turbines. The rate for use of the
canal as a power source was set at $5 per
horsepower, half that charged in Lowell.

While the residents of Augusta waited
anxiously to see how fast industry would
develop along the canal, time seemed to
move in slow motion. The hoped for break-
through came in 1847 when Jacobez Smith
arrived from Petersburg, Virginia. With local
backing he soon had a five-story industrial
facility under construction along the canal
and had secured water rights for his turbines.

The factory was so successful that in 1849
work began on a second five-story complex.I
Historic Sites of Augusta, Georgia
The Augusta Canal was a success. Other
companies soon began projects of their own
and the city saw its population nearly double
in just six years.

Additional improvements were made to the
canal in the 1850s to increase its power
potential and to improve its operation. One of
the most spectacular projects was the
building of the Rae's Creek Aqueduct.

Faced with granite from Stone Mountain and
built by Northern stone masons, the Rae's
Creek Aqueduct was finished in 1850-1852.
It actually took longer to build than the canal
itself. Although the project never worked
perfectly, it did succeed in carrying the canal
over the waters of Rae's Creek. The stone
aqueduct still survives.

During the Civil War the Augusta Canal
provided water and power for the two-mile
Confederate Powder Works. This
complex, which operated from 1862-1865,
was the only permanent edifice ever built by
the Confederate government. During its time
of operation, it produced 2,750,000 pounds
of gunpowder for the Southern armies. Its
towering chimney still stands.

The canal played a major role in the return of
private industry to Augusta after the war and
continues to provide water for the city to this
day. In 1996 it was designated a national
heritage area by the U.S. Congress.

The Augusta Canal main office and
Interpretive Center are located in the restored
Enterprise Mill at 1450 Greene Street in
Augusta. Hours: Monday - Saturday from 9:30
a.m. - 5:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1 - 5:30
p.m. Park admission is free, the the
Interpretive Center is $6 for adults, $4 for
students, seniors and military.

Please click here for more information and
boat tour schedules.