Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
Augusta Canal National Heritage Area/Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District

Canal 1

Augusta Canal Boat Tour
Rebecca Rogers
Augusta Canal National Heritage Area

Augusta Canal National Heritage Area/Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District includes a three-level canal constructed in 1845-46 and enlarged in 1874-77.  The first level reaches 8.5 miles from head gate structures in Columbia County into downtown Augusta.  The second and third levels take several paths through the Downtown and the Laney-Walker Districts prior to returning to the Savannah River, for a total length of approximately 13.5 miles.

Notable structures at the upper end of the canal’s first level are two head gates, the canal impoundment area, canal dam and attached fish ladder, stone quarry, and municipal raw water pumping station. The Enterprise, Blanche, Dartmouth, Sibley, and John P. King textile mills along the lower end of the first level date from the 1870s and 1880s.  The Confederate States Powder Works Chimney is also in the area.

A source of power, water, and transportation, the Augusta Canal was one of the few successful industrial canals in the American South.  Henry H. Cumming spearheaded its construction, envisioning that Augusta could one day become “the Lowell of the South.” Built by 1847, a saw and gristmill and the Augusta Factory were the first of many factories that would eventually line the canal.

At the time of the Civil War, Augusta was one of the South’s few manufacturing centers. The power afforded by the canal led Confederate Colonel George W. Rains to select Augusta as the location for the Confederate States Powder Works. The only permanent buildings ever constructed by the government of the Confederate States of America, the 28 powder works buildings stretched along the canal for two miles. Other war industries, established on or near the canal, made Augusta a critical supplier of ammunition and war material.

Unlike some other southern cities devastated by the Civil War and General Sherman’s march through Georgia and South Carolina, Augusta ended the war in “better condition than any other cities in this section of the South,” reported the Augusta Chronicle in December 1865. The population had doubled, and hard currency was available to finance recovery.

Canal 2

Confederate Powder Works Chimney
Rebecca Rogers
Augusta Canal National Heritage Area

The canal’s Chief Engineer William Phillips suggested enlarging the canal as one of the improvements to mitigate recurring flooding. Boom years followed enlargement of the canal in 1875, as massive factories including the Enterprise, King, and Sibley textile mills; the Lombard Ironworks; and others opened or expanded. Farm families migrated to the city for factory jobs. Largely employing women and children, the factories led to the rise of several “mill villages” in their precincts. By the early 1900s, Augusta was a leading textile-manufacturing city in the South.

In the 1890s, the city replaced its old water pumping station with the impressive structure at mid-canal that is still in use today. As the electric age began to dawn, the city turned to the falling waterpower provided by the canal as the source of energy to drive the first electrical generation equipment. By 1890, the city boasted both electric streetcars and street lighting making it the first southern city to have these amenities. Gradually the factories converted from hydro-mechanical power to electrical power.

Periodic floods, which plagued the canal and Augusta for decades, continued to cause damage during the early 20th century. Following major floods in late 1920s and early '30s, the Federal Works Progress Administration deployed workers to make repairs and improvements, including raising the banks, building a new spillway, and straightening the canal.

By the mid-20th century, the canal entered a period of neglect. Textile factories began to close, and the center of Augusta’s industrial activity shifted south of the city. Although still the city’s drinking water source, the canal was no longer the driving force for development. At one point in the 1960s, city officials considered draining the canal and using the dry bed as the course for a superhighway.

Historic silbey and confederate

Sibley Mill and Confederate Powder Works
Historic Augusta, Inc.

Interest in reviving the canal for recreational use began to appear by the mid-1970s. A state park was proposed, and supporters of designation made efforts to have the canal and its 19th century mills declared a National Historic Landmark. While the state park never materialized, growing public interest in the canal’s historic and scenic potential led to several important developments. The canal and its industrial mills were listed in the National Register of Historic Places and later designated a National Historic Landmark as the Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District.

In 1989, the Georgia State Legislature created the Augusta Canal Authority, the body that has jurisdiction over the canal today. In 1993, the authority issued a comprehensive master plan, outlining the canal’s development potential. In 1996, the US Congress designated the Augusta Canal as a National Heritage Area.

In the 21st century, the Augusta Canal is once again a source of pride and potential for its community. The mighty Enterprise Mill, revived after years of neglect as an office and residential complex, now houses the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area Interpretive Center. Its exhibits and artifacts depict canal construction and mill life and remind Augustans and visitors alike of the progress, problems, and promise of the Augusta Canal.

Plan your visit

Begin your visit at either the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area Interpretive Center in the Enterprise Mill at 1450 Greene St. or the Columbia County Regional Information Center in the Locker Keepers Cottage located at the head gates of the canal at the end of Evan-to-Locks Road. Daily boat tours of the canal leave from the Interpretive Center. Times vary by season. Visit the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area website or call 706-823-0440 for information on activities, a schedule for boat tours, and a list of fees.  The Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978. The canal achieved National Heritage Area status in 1996. Within the Heritage Area/district, the Augusta Water Works, Confederate Powder Works Chimney, Dartmouth Spinning Company, Enterprise Manufacturing Company, John P. King Manufacturing Company, and the Sibley Manufacturing Company have been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record.

previous page Next page