At the fall line in Columbia, the Broad and Saluda Rivers form the Congaree River. For a little over a mile the Congaree River rolls over rapids, shoals, and interspersed islands before it enters the coastal plain. As is typical of slowly moving mature streams, it meanders through the coastal plain, changing its course frequently. With its main tributaries Gills Creek, Sandy Run, Cedar Creek, Toms Creek, and the Congaree Creek, it forms one of the major rivers of the Santee River Basin, the largest river basin in South Carolina. If the Congaree River flowed in a straight line, it would be only about thirty miles long. However, because of its sinuous course, part of which forms the boundary between Richland and Calhoun Counties, the river flows southeasterly for about sixty miles and then joins the Wateree River to form the Santee River.
The Congaree River was named for the Siouan-speaking Congaree Indians, who settled below the confluence of the Broad and Saluda Rivers after the Yamassee War. At this intersection Old Fort Congaree was established in 1718 in order to protect the deerskin trade and the inward migration of colonists. In 1740 white settlers began populating the area, and indigo and corn were their principal crops.
The Congaree River contains the Congaree Swamp and the Beidler Tract, which represent the last stands of near-virgin southern hardwood forested swamps. Though limits have been placed on timbering these forests, lumbering along the Congaree River has been a major industry since colonial times. A thirty-seven-mile segment of the river was declared eligible for the South Carolina Scenic Rivers Program in 1976. Because of its strategic location, the Congaree River continues to be important for accessing the interior of the state.
Beasley, Barry R., et al. South Carolina Rivers Assessment. Columbia: South Carolina Water Resources Commission, 1988.
Congaree Swamp: Greatest Unprotected Forest on the Continent. Columbia, S.C., 1975.
Michie, James L. The Discovery of Old Fort Congaree. Columbia: Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina, [1989?].