History & Culture
The Congaree floodplain is rich in cultural history.
Prehistoric foragers hunted the area and fished its waters. The Congaree claimed the floodplain and Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto recounted the intrigue of the area in his journals. Around 1700, the Congaree were decimated by a smallpox epidemic introduced with the arrival of European settlers. The new residents obtained land grants from the King of England until 1776, when the state of South Carolina assumed the right to distribute ownership of the land. Attempts to make the land suitable for planting, as well as grazing, continued through 1860. The floodplain's minor changes in elevation and consequent flooding stifled agricultural activity; but the intermittent flooding allowed for soil nutrient renewal and enabled the area's trees to thrive. Bald Cypress, in particular, became a target for logging. By 1905, the Santee River Cypress Lumber Company, owned by Francis Beidler, had acquired much of the land. Poor accessibility by land confined logging to tracts near waterways so that logs could be floated down river. In the perpetual dampness, though, many of the cut trees remained too green to float. Operations were suspended within ten years, leaving old-growth remaining in the floodplain.
In 1969 relatively high timber prices prompted private landowners to consider resuming logging operations. As a result of an effective grass roots campaign launched by the Sierra Club and many local individuals, Congress established Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976.
On June 30, 1983 Congaree Swamp National Monument was designated an International Biosphere Reserve. In July of 2001 it was designated a Globally Important Bird Area, and on November 10, 2003 it was designated as the nation's 57th National Park.