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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Army Corps helps navigation above Augusta on the Savannah River
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Roger Allen

Note: The following is part of a series of columns exploring the use of rivers in the early history of Georgia and Bulloch County.

The Augusta, Petersburg, and Savannah River Steam and Pole Boat Navigation Company of North-Eastern Georgia, or APSR, was founded in 1859 in, not surprisingly, Augusta.

The major investors were J.J. Field, J. and E. Lockhart, D.B. Cade, W. Gibson and F. Blodgett Jr. Their charter gave them sole rights to "opening and clearing out a channel in the Savannah and Tugalo Rivers to the Georgia boundary."

Why? According to "The Augusta Chronicle: Indomitable Voice of Dixie" by E.L. Bell and K.C. Crabbe's, "In 1827, pole boats and wagons transported more than 100,000 bales of cotton to Augusta."

George Sibbald's "Notes and Observations on the Pinelands of Georgia" (1801) declared Petersburg was "situated on a point of Land ... formed by Broad river." Petersburg was once Georgia's third-largest town.

The report described these boats as "about 85 feet long, 7 feet wide ... drawing from 20 to 22 inches when fully loaded ... (carrying a load) of about 12 to 13 tons downstream and 6 to 8 tons upstream. Cotton is the principal freight."

In House Documents (1916-7), W.C. Lemen's report, "Survey of the Savannah River," stated that "navigation was conducted by 'shooting' the rapids on the downstream trip, and on return by forcing the craft through the gaps by means of poles."

Lemen wrote, "This mode of navigation is now undergoing a change. Slack water navigation now being established for a distance about 22 miles above the city, small power boats have begun to appear."

The "Annual Report of the Committee on Commerce of the United States Senate" (1892) reported on a proposed improvement project "in 1879 ... a low water pole boat channel ... (30 feet wide and 3 feet deep) between Augusta and Trotter's Shoals, 64 miles above."

Lemen's report declared, "Thus, of the 53 miles of navigation ... the first 7 are through the Augusta Canal, (and) 13 in the pond of the Stevens Creek Dam. ... (The) amount expended by the Federal Government on all projects above August ... is $69,188."

Traffic on the Savannah

The "Annual Report of the Secretary of War" (1899) included the report of Corps of Engineers Lt. O.M. Carter in which there was a survey of the river undertaken by assistant engineer George W. Brown in 1890.

It stated that the value of commerce carried on the Savannah River was $2,219,000: 356,000 tons of goods valued at $2,140,000 carried on steam boats, and some 22,400 tons of logs and wood lightered or rafted downstream worth $79,000.

Brown's report stated that the fall of the river, or drop in elevation, between Augusta and Savannah was 108 feet, or a drop of just over one-half foot per mile of the river (0.5333 feet per mile).

He reported that "the following public ferries are maintained across the river: Sand Bar Ferry (198.6), Brown's Ferry (130.7), at Matthew's Bluff (100.6), and at Sister's Ferry (47.2)."

The report stated that at this time, only four boats were working the Savannah River: steamboats Ethel, Katie and Advance and the Georgia Chemical Works ship Progress.

The "way landings," or steamboat stops) from Savannah to Augusta were Drakies (9 miles), Big Patten (21), Bay Bush Point (31), Kiefer's (33), Ebenezer (34), Seine's (37), Berry's (38), Gaffney's (37) and Frying Pan (39).

A bit upstream were Groover's (46 miles), Sister's Ferry (47), Ku Klux Landing (51), Trowell's (52), Mount Pleasant (60), Porter's (62), Enoch's (67), Black Creek (70), Poor Robin (80), Haga Slaga (91) and Brier Creek (93).

Halfway upriver were Saxon's (104 miles), Black's (108), Valley Bluff (109), Mill's (113), Burton Ferry (117), Cotton Tree (128), Stony Bluff (132), Steel Creek (142), Ellison's (143), Brigham's (144) and Buxton's (147).

That year, boats carried about 36,000 tons of freight and some 18,000 passengers. Many of the passengers rode for free as they were accompanying their freight.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at



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