The Sites of Landsford Canal

Up Chester County way, Landsford Canal is so beautiful it ended up in a coffeetable book, “Reflections Of South Carolina” (Clark & Poland). You could say it’s as pretty as a picture. Getting to the canal is easy. From Blythewood and Winnsboro, it is only about 40 miles, much of which is on I-77 North. Go visit Landsford Canal State park and the Catawba River, all blue and rocky, that once upon a time was an avenue of commerce.

The locks at the south end of Landsford Canal remind us that man can make beautiful structures from rocks. Irish masons crafted the canal’s guardlock, a structure that lowered boats into the canal during floods. The finely cut, precise granite stones still stand, only now lush greenery grows between them where water once stood. In the river, an old diversion dam of rock continues its prolonged tumble. It’s as if time stands still while this old wall decides if it’s going to fall. Men built this diversion dam to direct water into the canal and to offer riverboat pilots a haven during floods.

People come to the canal all day, especially in May and June when the rocky shoals’ spider lilies burst into large white blooms. Anchored among rocks, the flowers festoon the river. You can see the earth’s true colors in the river and its load of jammed logs: blue, brown, green and white. One of the world’s largest stands of these exquisite white flowers lives here. This large plant has adapted to a very harsh environment and puts on one of the greatest natural “shows” on the East Coast. During their peak bloom from about mid-May to mid-June, these plants blanket the river in white blossoms. Their needs are simple: swift, shallow water and sunlight. Therein lies a problem. Man’s penchant for damming rivers leaves them few places to grow now.

Riverboat pilots used to ply the Catawba’s waters, but no more. Now kayakers do. Watch folks kayak by, deftly avoiding rocks. On land and by water, people come here to marvel at the old canal. These venerable stone structures stand as monuments to workers who toiled long and hard in the days before power and pneumatic tools came along. And yet their work not only endures, it gives us places stone cold beautiful and places to escape our modern, monotonous version of civilization.

Fishing, boating and just watching nature are fine activities to enjoy. Playground equipment is on hand for kids. Hike the interpretive trails and see the foundations of an early 1800s mill site. Pack a picnic and enjoy it at a shelter. Spend time in the museum, a restored Great Falls Canal lock keepers house. Check out its pictorial displays. (Open by appointment only. Call to schedule a visit.) You will love every minute of your visit. Keep an eye out for bald eagles, and best of all go when the rocky shoals spider lilies are in bloom from mid-May to mid-June.

 Learn more about Tom Poland, a southern writer at Email day-trip ideas to [email protected]

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