Landsford Canal State Park
2051 Park Drive, Catawba, S.C. 803-789-5800. www.southcarolinaparks.com/landsfordcanal.
You can see a feat of engineering so amazing in its day that South Carolina named a park after it.
In Colonial times and the early days of the Republic, a common barrier to noncoastal development were river rapids: Boats could go only so far up or down a waterway without encountering an elevation change occasioned by rapids. Cargo would have to be unloaded at those "fall lines, moved by primitive roadways, then loaded again on a boat plying the next stretch of water.
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That was the case in South Carolina, where the Catawba River becomes the Wateree, which feeds into the Congaree southeast of Columbia, and eventually reaches the coast.
A series of canals and locks was commissioned to fix this: Cotton was "king," and the state's well-being depended on getting the crop from the upstate to the Lowcountry. Of those constructed, Landsford - on a Chester Country tract that had been owned by Thomas Land - was the northernmost.
Construction began in 1820, with Robert Mills - the Charleston engineer who later designed the Washington Monument - its designer. It included five locks over two miles, to accommodate a 32-foot drop in elevation. The canal and locks were built between 1820 and 1825 by slave and immigrant laborers - 12 feet wide and 10 feet deep to handle flat-bottom riverboats.
But the project was short-lived: The advent of railroads made it obsolete; the canal's heyday barely lasted a decade.
The park's 448 acres hug the west bank of the Catawba, and a 1 1/2-mile trail walks you through the project's history. The granite locks survive, as do several stone bridges and buildings.
The park is home to a massive population of rock shoals spider lilies - about 20 acres of large, hardy plants that sport large white blooms mid-May through mid-June. The swift-moving water also attracts canoers and kayakers. Rentals available from Catawba River Expeditions: 803-327-9335; www.catawba-river-expeditions.com.
Admission: $2; $1.25 for S.C. seniors; 15 and younger, free.
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.
Travel time from Charlotte: 50 minutes.
Directions: Interstate 77 South to Exit 77 (Highways 5 and 21). Turn left (south) and drive 16 miles to the park sign; turn left.