It was one of several canals constructed by the state of South Carolina in the 1820s to improve transportation links between the upstate and Charleston.
Completed in 1824, the Columbia Canal originally extended three miles below the city of Columbia off Laurel Street. It was one of several canals constructed by the state of South Carolina in the 1820s to improve transportation links between the upstate and Charleston. The canal was located on the east bank of the Congaree River, near the junction of the Broad and Saluda Rivers, and cost $206,000 to build. After its completion, it transported an average of thirty thousand bales of cotton each year to Charleston. During early years of operation the canal experienced many problems, especially the fluctuating water levels that periodically restricted navigation. In 1840 the state decided that it would no longer subsidize the canal. The construction of railroads supplanted the need for canals to transport goods.
The Confederate government used the canal during the Civil War to run powder works. After the war the state tried to dispose of the canal, but had little success. While its usefulness as a transportation source declined, the canal had excellent prospects for power generation. A sawmill, a water pumping station, and a gristmill (operated by the neighboring state penitentiary) all used the Columbia Canal as a power source. In 1891 the canal was sold to the Columbia Water Power Company, which built a powerhouse on the canal in 1894 to produce electricity for its new electric textile plant, Columbia Mills. The power plant was rebuilt in 1896, and as of 1998 the Columbia Canal hydroelectric plant still produced fifty thousand megawatt hours of electricity per year. In 1979 the Columbia Canal was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Four years later the city of Columbia opened Riverfront Park, which included a two-and-one-half-mile walking trail along the canal.
Moore, John Hammond. Columbia and Richland County: A South Carolina Community, 1740–1900. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.
Pierce, Robert A. SCANA’s First 150 Years: Building on Success. Columbia, S.C.: SCANA, 1996.
Pogue, Nell C. South Carolina Electric & Gas Company, 1846–1964. Columbia, S.C.: SCE&G, 1964.
Smith, Fenelon DeVere. “The Economic Development of the Textile Industry in the Columbia, South Carolina, Area, from 1790 through 1916.” Ph.D. diss., University of Kentucky, 1952.