Thursday, March 20, 2008


For thousands of years before Europeans arrived in present-day South Carolina, the Congaree River valley was frequented by Indians. Evidence of their presence can be found on river bluffs and terraces, sand bars, natural point bars, and man-made mounds along the river valley.

Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto explored the area in 1540, followed by Juan Pardo in 1567 and Englishman John Lawson in 1700. The Congaree River took its name from the Native Americans these explorers encountered. In 1715, the Congaree Indians fought against the colonists in the Yemassee War. After the war, more than half of the remaining population was captured and enslaved by the colonists, while the remainder of the tribe left the area permanently.

With the disappearance of the Congaree Indians, the new European settlers obtained land grants from the King of England until 1776, when the State of South Carolina assumed the right to distribute land to private owners.

Beginning in 1730s, many of the first land grants in Richland County were located along the Congaree River, both opposite Friday’s Ferry and near the mouths of Mill Creek and Gills Creek. Settlers and cotton planters farmed the fertile floodplain soil, while adapting agricultural practices to mitigate the effects of spring “freshets” and larger tropical floods. Agricultural dikes can be seen on the Richland side of the Congaree River below Cayce Landing, and are also preserved in Congaree National Park as part of its cultural and historical legacy.

Cattle mounds were constructed along the river to herd cattle grazing in the floodplain forests in times of floods; hay and feed could then be provided by boat. Some of these cattle mounds are still found along the river, including in Congaree National Park.

In lower Richland County, the Congaree River and its floodplain forests have been particularly important in the lives of African Americans. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, plantation and farm slave labor dominated. Published accounts show that slaves roamed these floodplain forests, seeking escape from the harsh realities of slave life. After Emancipation, African Americans became landowners and farmers themselves, building homes and churches in present-day Hopkins and Gadsden, South Carolina. Their intimate knowledge of specific local landmarks (such as Bannister Bridge, Cowpen Lake, Jumpin’ Gut, and Goose Lake) was depicted in the late 1920s by Edward C. L. Adams in his famous collection of African-American folklore, Tales of the Congaree.

In the late 1800s, large tracts of land in the Congaree and Santee River systems were owned by Francis Beilder and the Santee River Cypress Lumber Company. Logging in the floodplain was confined to tracts near the main river and creek channels due to poor accessibility to the interior of the floodplain. In these areas, cypress trees were girdled and dried while standing to prevent sinking during river transport before felling. The dry trees were then floated down river to saw mills. Operations were effectively halted by 1915; though most of the old-growth cypress trees were gone, much of the remaining forest was left relatively untouched.

Harry Hampton, outdoorsman and writer, started a long campaign in the 1950s to protect the forests in the Congaree and Santee floodplains. In 1969, relatively high timber prices prompted private landowners to consider resuming logging operations. As a result of an effective grassroots campaign launched by local citizens, Congress established Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976. That designation was not enough to protect the area from the force of Hurricane Hugo in September 1989. The park lost several national champion trees, but the overall effect opened up the canopy and was a natural stimulus for growth.

On June 30, 1983, Congaree Swamp National Monument was designated an International Biosphere Reserve. In July 2001, it was designated a Globally Important Bird Area, and in November 2003, it was designated the nation’s 57th National Park. In May 2006, portions of Cedar Creek inside the park were designated Outstanding National Resource Waters.

1 comment:

sha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.