Visitors to the Augusta Canal will have access to some new tour options this week, in addition to the popular Interpretive Center exhibits that highlight the city’s industrial past.
“One of the things we have is a boat tour we’re doing this year for the first time,” said marketing director Rebecca Rogers.
The series, called “After Amen Corner: Augusta’s Golf Heritage,” will include guided lectures aboard a Petersburg boat as it cruises along the canal and Lake Olmstead, formed by Rae’s Creek.
“It’ll be a combination of geography, history and how the Augusta area’s topography lent itself to becoming a famous place for golf courses,” Rogers said.
The special boat tours will be held Friday and Saturday at 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. and will depart and
return to the floating docks at Julian Smith Park on Lake Olmstead, Rogers said.
Regular boat tours will continue from Enterprise Mill on Greene Street, which also houses the Interpretive Center for
the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area.
The center, housed in a redeveloped, historic textile mill on the canal’s bank, includes an operating hydropower demonstration turbine and exhibits that trace the canal’s design, construction and post-Civil War expansion.
Other exhibits, videos and programs trace the canal’s role in fueling the industrial growth of the textile industry, which once flourished in many southern towns.
The National Heritage Area program is administered by the National Park Service. The canal’s Congressional designation was bestowed in 1996.
LOCATION: 1450 Greene St., Augusta
HOURS: Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m.– 5:30 p.m., Sunday 1-5:30 p.m.
The significance of the Augusta Canal is – and has been – many things to many people and generations.
For Henry Cumming, who originated the concept in the 1840s after observing similar projects in Lowell, Mass., the canal was the South’s ticket to industrial might. It also was an avenue for Augusta to compete with the North by processing its own cotton, instead of shipping to other cities.
For portions of Augusta’s Irish and Chinese communities it is the reason they live here. Their ancestors were among many builders of the canal.
For entrepreneurs, the canal was a lucrative opportunity. At one time in the late 1800s, more than 45 industries – mostly mills and foundries – occupied its banks and used its water power to amplify production.
For the Confederacy, the canal attracted the Powder Works to Augusta, where more than 100 buildings along two miles of canal turned out powder, cannons, fuses and other ordnance used in the Southern war effort. The complex’s ornate chimney is believed by historians to be the only surviving example of Confederate architecture.
For the city of Augusta, the canal provided an abundant, inexpensive drinking water supply that, even after centuries of growth, remains in operation today.
For the textile barons of the North, Augusta’s canal helped hasten economic decline, as mills in New England closed and moved south in search of cheap labor and closer proximity to the source of cotton and other products.
For generations of Augustans, the canal was a source of recreation: mule-drawn barges took families westward for picnics and dances at the Old Lock and Dam’s wooden bandstand. The canal also parallels one of the nearby Savannah River’s most scenic areas.
For archaeologists, the canal corridor encompasses nationally significant prehistoric sites, including Stallings Island, where Smithsonian researchers exhumed 84 Indian graves in the 1920s, and where some of the oldest pottery on the continent has been found.
For the working class neighborhoods of Harrisburg, West End and Laney-Walker, the canal is a legacy of mill culture, where generations followed one another through employment at mills and lived in mill housing flanked by mill-owned stores and shops.
For architectural history buffs, canal-side Sibley Mill, with its unusual parapets and ironwork, is among fewer than five such buildings that remain intact throughout the nation. The building, now owned by the Canal Authority, is being preserved for future redevelopment.
For the urban and suburban public, the scenic river and canal, running side by side, offer canoeing, bicycling, fishing, hiking and other options, all within minutes of most residents’ homes and workplaces.