When the locks at the Augusta Canal headgates first opened 153 years ago, their purpose was to allow slender boats piled with cotton to bypass the Savannah River rapids and reach downtown Augusta.
On Thursday, the Augusta Canal Authority learned the Georgia Department of Transportation will finance an $896,600 restoration of the old locks, based on their importance to the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area.
"It's a wonderful thing from an educational standpoint," said Glenn Coyne, the authority's executive director.
The project, which requires a local match of $224,150, is financed through the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, which enhances transportation corridors encouraging nonmotorized traffic.
Mr. Coyne said the local match can be derived from a variety of sources, including local sales tax dollars and congressionally approved allocations to the Canal National Heritage Corridor.
The earliest lock opened when the canal was built in 1845 and has since been filled with dirt, Mr. Coyne said.
A larger lock was added when the canal was improved in 1876.
Both will be restored.
"The money will be available Oct. 1, so we can start putting put requests for engineering and architecture proposals whenever we're ready," he said.
It's too early to tell how long it will take to restore the old locks.
"The one built in 1845 once had a building on top of it," he said.
Photographs provided by Joseph Lee, whose book on vintage Augusta postcards was published earlier this year, will help in efforts to recreate the appearance of the locks long ago.
Petersburg boats once shipped cotton from upstate plantations.
After passing through the locks, the boats traveled down the canal to a turning basin near 13th Street, where cotton was hauled to the riverfront in wagons.
Being able to demonstrate how the locks were used adds an important dimension to the canal and its intrigue, Mr. Coyne said.
ISTEA funds also helped finance the Augusta Canal Master Plan that led to the establishment of the National Heritage Corridor two years ago.
More recently, Columbia County received $753,600 -- which requires matching funds of $188,400 -- to restore historic buildings near the headgates; and Augusta received $1 million for bridges and other canal improvements.