My Georgia History

The Augusta Canal

When you’re talking about the history of Augusta, you can’t talk very long without bringing up the Augusta Canal.   Let’s go back.  The year was 1844.  There had been talk of a canal since the early 1840s.  A group of prominent and wealthy citizens had looked at the canal in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Many Augustan’s came to support the canal project, which was submitted by Colonel Henry H. Cummings.  Later, Cummings would to be called the father of the canal.   Because no one individual had sufficient capital to underwrite such a project, a group of men, led by former U.S. Senator John P. King, made the canal a reality.  They incorporated a canal company and raised $500,000.

Now, not everyone in Augusta was in favor of the canal.  Their thoughts were, manufacturing is a northern thing. We raise the cotton, we shouldn’t be manufacturers too. But the canal work went on.  In late 1844 construction began.  They worked through 1845 and into late 1846.  From the head gates located north of Augusta, in Columbia County, to Augusta the canal was seven miles long.  For industrial use there was quite a discussion in town.  Where should the canal empty back into the river?  The first plan was to be just south of town.  But the cry went up, if you drop our river level in town, it could hurt the city.  So they decided to go through Hawks Gully.

On November 23, 1846 water was first released into the Augusta Canal.  The first level of the canal was completed.  The second and third levels were completed in 1848. It brought the full length of the canal to nine miles.

In 1849 ownership of the canal was transferred to the city of Augusta. During the Civil War, the canal had a large part in the thinking of George Washington Rains in building the Confederate Power Mill here. It produced around three million pounds of gunpowder.  After the Civil War the city decided to enlarge the canal.  The cost was $173,000.  The contract went to Green and Company.  Contractors brought in over 200 Chinese people to work in May, of 1872.  After the enlargement was completed in 1875 it left the canal much as it is today.  The canal is nine miles long, 11 feet deep, 106ft. wide at the bottom, and 150 ft. wide at the surface. Instead of the original 600 horsepower, it is now capable of producing 14,000 horsepower. The enlarged canal is outdone only by the Suez Canal.

With the enlarged canal, Mayor Estes, was reelected as mayor.  He won with a vote of two to one over Lewis D. Ford. With increased power from the canal, industry started building. The Sibley Mill was built in 1880, the J. P. King Mill in 1883.

In April 2003, the Augusta Canal Interpretive Center, in the Enterprise Mill, opened its doors to the public.  In October 2003, a replica, of the old Petersburg boat, started giving boat rides on the canal.

By the way did you know we have the only canal, in America, still doing what it was originally built to do, provide power for the mills. What a history!




Written by Mark Woodard

Research sources:

  • The Story of Augusta. Cashin, Edward J. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Company Publishing. (1996)
  • Augusta, A Pictorial History. Callahan, Helen. Richmond County Historical Society Publisher. (1980)
  • Confederate City, Augusta Georgia 1860-1865. Corley, Florence Fleming. (1995)
  • Memorial History of Augusta, Georgia. Jones, Charles C. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Publishers. (1890)
  • From City to Countryside. Haltermann, Bryan M. (1997)
  • The Brightest Arm of the Savannah, The Augusta Canal 1845-2000. Cashin, Edward J. (2002)
  • From City to Countryside. Haltermann, Bryan M. (1997)

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