30 September 2008

Tote that bale!

Ok, this is the Ogeechee Canal, a small number of miles southwest of Savannah, Georgia. I have been trying to find this place for a while, but it is not easy. It is not on very many maps, and only has a sign for it going in one direction. It is also privately run so it is not often featured in anything. Anyway, the Ogeechee Canal was originally planned to connect the Savannah River with the Ogeechee, Altamaha, Flint, and Chattahoochee rivers, bringing together much of Georgia's agricultural interior and making Savannah the premier Southern port. It began in 1824 with a State granted charter to Ebenezer Jenckes to build a canal between the Savannah and Ogeechee rivers. News and public support for the project were initially high, but fell quickly and fell hard. In 1825, Jenckes went to New York and met with Governor De Witt Clinton, the champion of the famous Erie Canal. Clinton recommended his twenty year old son, De Witt Jr. He arrived in Georgia amid controversy about his age and experience. His advice to build a feeder canal was also ignored and in March of 1827 he resigned as Canal Engineer.
But the canal's problems had only begun. Soon, investors became delinquit on their payments and much stock was abandoned. Contractors cut corners which caused delays and other problems. The one bright spot was perhaps that the canal company turned to local planters for laborers, leasing slaves and giving money to the landowners. The peak work force was 577 slave and Irish laborers in March 1827.
The sixteen mile canal between the Savannah and Ogeechee rivers was finally completed in December 1830 for $190,000. Its early years of operation continued to be problematic however. Creditors still sought the funds they were owed, and the canal seemed to always be in disrepair. In 1833 the Central of Georgia Railroad was chartered and brought in investors who had given up on the problematic canal. In 1836 the bankrupt canal was sold at sheriff's auction for a fraction of its value.But the canal's new management did not give up on it. The wooden locks were replaced with brick ones, the canal was deepened, and the embankments and tow path were improved. During the 1840's and 50's the canal boomed. Cotton, rice, beans, bricks, naval stores, peaches, and more were now shipped on the canal from the enterprises west of Savannah to the city's docks.
During the Civil War, the canal lay in the path of Sherman's march to the sea, and became the site of several skirmishes in December 1864. The canal was damaged as a result, and was even used by the Confederates to flood the area as a defense. But the canal was repaired and back in operation by March 1866. It was not until June 1876 that operations were again suspended, this time due to damage from a heavy rainstorm. The canal had been in decline due to much industry moving westward out of its reach. The railroad company bought pieces of land along the canal that were beneficial to its own cause, but the days of the canal itself were now over.
Today only a small piece of the canal is preserved by the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Society. The rest is in various states of decay, but the Society is working to preserve the rest as well. Only a half-mile of the original sixteen miles is kept at the park, at the Ogeechee River (seen above) end, including locks five and six.
A piece of one of the original wooden locks in the Canal museum
Various pieces and tools from the canal

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