Finding the Original Purpose

On November 5, 2013 · 1 Comments

I’m always on the lookout for unusual trivia so something stuck in my mind a couple of years ago when I learned about the Augusta Canal, logically located in Augusta, Georgia. The claim, well it took a variety of forms so I put it on the discard pile for awhile before finally returning to it recently.

  • Maybe, "the only canal in the world still used for its original purpose of providing power to textile mills."
  • Perhaps, "One of the only intact, functioning American 19th century industrial power canal systems."
  • Perchance, "the nation’s only industrial power canal still in use for its original purpose."

Augusta Canal

It was definitely remarkable and noteworthy although I felt I needed to try to verify that claim, although nobody seemed to agree on what it was exactly. I discarded the national and worldwide assertions — invariably those kinds of statements trend towards hyperbole and an enterprising 12MC reader would prove them wrong soon enough — and focused on whether the Augusta Canal retained its original purpose.

Simple enough. So what was the original purpose? Again I ran into much of the same silliness. Most sources specified industrial power although others threw in a secondary purpose, a source of drinking water, or even a tertiary purpose, transportation. Talk about hedging one’s bets. At the logical extreme it meant that as long as anyone continued to use the canal for power, water or boating, the canal could still be claimed to serve its original function. I took a strong position and stuck with power production. Did the Augusta Canal still provide power for industrial purposes? That should be a simple yes or no.

I rewound the clock and reviewed the Augusta Canal History page provided by the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area. To summarize, the canal began in 1845 along the fall line of the Savannah River, an excellent location because the elevation drop could be harnessed for hydro-mechanical power using water wheels and such. Factories soon followed. It became one of the few industrial areas located in the southern U.S. before the outbreak of the Civil War, and a natural choice for secessionists to construct the Confederate Powderworks, their gunpowder factory. Augusta survived the war better than most Georgia cities and boomed during Reconstruction, with a string of textile mills and ironworks. The latter half of the 20th Century wasn’t kind to this type of industrialization in Augusta or elsewhere in the United States. The mills began to close, one by one.

That background data helped. I simply needed to find an intact mill or factory still powered by the canal. It didn’t sound promising, though.

Enterprise Mill
Enterprise Mill by AugustaGALiving, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

The Enterprise Mill and Granite Mill ceased operations in 1983. Since then it became, in real estate speak, "an extraordinary setting for working in commercial office space and living in residential lofts and apartments." It was reborn as an excellent example of urban renewal and repurposing after many years of decay and neglect. In addition to offices and apartments, the Enterprise Mill also provided a home for the Augusta Canal National Heritage Discovery Center.

Here’s the best part. The Discovery Center included a Hydropower Demonstration Turbine using canal water to create "hydro-mechanical power which drives the line shaft mounted on the ceiling. The paddle fan above the gift shop operates directly from the line shaft power." In one very small way, for a single ceiling fan in a gift shop in a former textile mill building, one could claim legitimately that the canal continued to provide its original purpose. Could I do better?

It was important to consider another historical fact. Power generated by the canal switched from hydro-mechanical to hydro-electric in the 1890’s.

Sibley and King Mills
Sibley and King Mills by Sir Mildred Pierce, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Sibley Mill was another of the old historic structures, in this case constructed in 1882 and producing textiles until 2006. The chimney was a nonfunctional element by the way — it was an historic relic from the old Powderworks — which gave the property a distinctive appearance. Soon after its closure, the Augusta Canal Authority purchased the site with the intent of preserving and redeveloping it, as had been done successfully with the Enterprise Mill. The latest information I uncovered came from a local television station in (October 2013): apparently the structure could become the Mills Campus of Georgia Regents University.

More significantly for the purpose of my search, the Augusta Canal Authority continued to operate the hydropower unit at the Sibley Mill Site "for its own use and sells the surplus to the Georgia Power Company." The Authority used canal-generated electricity although it didn’t serve an industrial purpose, so could I find something better?

The King Mill sealed the deal. The J. P. King Mill started operating in 1883 and closed at the turn of the 21st Century. The Authority purchased the property and leased it to Standard Textile, which continues to operate the premise as a mill, as one can see clearly in Google Street View. Best of all, 50% of their electrical power comes from the canal and the rest from Georgia Power.

That was enough to convince me that the Augusta Canal has indeed maintained it’s original purpose, providing power to fuel industry since its inception in 1845.

Not Completely Unrelated

You said butt. Uh huh huh huh.

I discovered Butt Bridge. It crosses the historic Augusta Canal and was named for Archibald Willingham Butt, a passenger on the Titanic who did not survive. Recently I featured bridge sculptures and was pleased to observe that Butt Bridge had some impressive statuary as well (Street View).

On November 5, 2013 · 1 Comments

One Response to “Finding the Original Purpose”

  1. Pfly says:

    There’s a Big Butt in Tennessee. Just saying.,-82.63292&z=15&t=T

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