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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Ogeechee Canal had a long history before closing
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Roger Allen

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

The Ogeechee Canal first closed in November 1836 after it was sold at a sheriff's sale. Amos Scudder, one of the canal's original contractors, bought the stock and rebuilt the canal between 1840 and 1850, using brick instead of wood.

Merchants Magazine declared in 1849, "The (new) locks are all of brick, 110 feet long, 18 feet wide, except the lock at the Savannah River, which is 30 feet wide, and will admit a vessel (drawing) ten feet of water."

"The canal ... is 160 feet wide. ... At least 20,000-25,000 cords of wood and 10,000,000 feet of lumber will annually pass down the canal, besides rice, bricks, (etc.)."

The Giles and Company Sawmill, one of the nation's largest, opened at the former Vale Royale Plantation. William McAlpins' Savannah Patent Brick Company, maker of the famous Savannah gray bricks, was also built alongside the canal.

The Ogeechee Canal was badly damaged during the Civil War, both in battles fought along the canal and due to Confederate Army efforts to slow Union advances by damaging the canal infrastructure.

After an 1892 storm put the canal out of commission, the Central of Georgia Railroad acquired the canal's property. Many suspected they did this so the canal could no longer compete with the railroad.

A report by the Army Corps of Engineers assistant engineer W.C. Lemen (1910) revealed that the Ogeechee Canal had been "crossed by 14 railroads, 11 wagon bridges or embankments, 2 dams, and 3 conduits."

Lemen wrote that "this canal forms a saving of
50 miles in a water route from the county adjacent to the Ogeechee River (and avoids) at least three reversals of the tide before reaching Savannah."

Signaling the canal's fading power, "The Code of the City of Savannah" reported that Canal Street was renamed River Street in 1903, and that the Savannah and Ogeechee Canal Company was formally dissolved in 1915.

Ogeechee Canal comes to an end

Lemen's report, entitled "The Preliminary Examination of the Old Ogeechee Canal," was dated Oct. 29, 1910. His recommendations were simple.

First, "the United States has no jurisdiction (over) ... this canal ... which nominally lies in the name of the Savannah and Ogeechee Canal Co., but is probably owned by the Central of Georgia Railroad Co. ... They have forfeited any claim (because) ... the original charter specified the maintenance of the canal forever."

Second, "if ... the State of Georgia would reclaim this property and turn the same over to the United States Government free of cost, then ... the benefit derived from the restoring or rebuilding of the canal would be commensurate."

Col. D.C. Kingman, the chief engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, submitted Lemen's report to the Board of Commissioners for Rivers and Harbors on Nov. 10, 1901. Kingman wrote, "The present owners of the canal have made absolutely no efforts to keep up the canal. The gates are gone from the locks, the banks are gone in many places, and the water is out of the canal except in such places as it stands naturally."

In the "Report of the Board of Commissioners for Rivers and Harbors," dated March 6, 1911, board member Col. W.T. Rossell discussed the state of the Ogeechee Canal. He warned, "The canal is now in an abandoned and useless condition. ... The dimensions of the locks as originally constructed are unsuited to the better type of river boats of today, and the canal would have to be practically reconstructed."

In 1916, the city of Savannah acquired the remaining assets of the canal. During the 1930s, Savannah and Chatham County undertook a huge canal project as part of the Federal Work Projects Administration.

This, the largest WPA project in Georgia, worked on improving the Savannah and Ogeechee, Buckhalter, Casey, DeRenne, Dundee, and Hampstead canals. Its purpose: to drain much of the swampy land outside of Savannah.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.

 

 

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