Landsford Canal State Park
Landsford Canal History
Along this rocky stretch of the Catawba River sits a tract of land that that has played a vital role in the lives of the surrounding people for over a thousand years. Long before Tomas Land acquired the land in 1754, it was used by native people like the Catawba as a ford to cross the river.
Its importance as a river crossing continued during the American Revolution when it was used as a staging ground by Patriot general Thomas Sumter before the battle of Hanging Rock. The British Army under Lord Charles Cornwallis also used the ford as they withdrew from Charlotte after the Battle of Kings Mountain.
A few short decades later Thomas Land’s Ford, by now just called Landsford, would become a vital link in the 19th Century Internal Improvements push to connect outlying areas of South Carolina to the Port of Charleston.
Internal Improvements and Landsford Canal
After the war of 1812, the Port of New Orleans began to overshadow Charleston as the most important port in the nation. In an attempt to revitalize the port, a series of projects were undertaken around the state designed to make it easier to move freight to and from the port and within the State.
The State Road was built from Charleston to North Carolina, and canals were built to make the states waterways navigable.
Along the Catawba River, a series of four canals were built to open a water route between North Carolina and Camden. The shallow river flowing over exposed bedrock made the river a challenge to navigate. The area around Landsford was the most treacherous. An elevation change created a series of rapids made this part of the river impossible to traverse.
Construction on the canal system began around 1819, and would take 4 years to complete. Landsford was the last and northern most in the system. Built under supervision of Scotsman Robert Leckie by both Irish Masons and the local enslaved population, the canal ran along 2 miles along the Catawba river at the most treacherous point.
Requiring a total of four lifting locks for the thirty-two feet of descent along its length. A rock diversion dam was built along the upriver section to channel water into the canal system, and a guard lock to regulate the amount of water added. The canal was twelve feet wide and ten feet deep with three bridges crossing it, a number of culverts diverting streams under the canal so as not to damage it, and over time a mill was constructed about halfway down.
A Family Tragedy During Landsford Canal’s Construction
Robert Leckie’s days working on Landsford Canal turned into the darkest time in his life. With 20 months he would loose his two year old son George Bomford Leckie in August 1822 followed by his aunt Mary Wilson the following month. On January 23, 1823 his wife Mary died, and his 22 year son James Taylor Leckie died on May 19, 1824.
After his wife’s death, he constructed a unique enclosure around their graves at the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church not far from the Landsford Canal work site. The burial plot is completely surrounded by a 7 foot high stone wall. Robert Leckie didn’t put entrance on the enclosure, but instead, he designed it with stones protruding outward to form steps.
Robert Leckie’s problems didn’t end with the death of his family, though. In 1824 another engineer, John Gouty, was brought on to hired to supervise the canal constriction. Leckie protested that Gouty was not honest and was taking dangerous shortcuts in the construction of Landsford Canal. Unfortunately, Leckie’s concerns were ignored. In the end, he left South Carolina still being owed money for the work he did on Landsford Canal.
The canal cost over $122,000 to build, but never a financial success. Opening in 1823, one of the locks collapsed in 1824 due to a poor foundation. The repairs were costly and the canal was out of commission for a long time. Even after the collapse, the canal system wasn’t well maintained. By 1836 competition from railroads was taking its toll on the canals. Maintenance requirements were ignored and they fell into disrepair. By 1840, river traffic had ceased and the canals were abandoned.
Landsford Canal State Park Today
Today, Landsford Canal is the last of the Catawba River Canals and still accessible as well as one of the last in the entire state.
While much of the canal has been washed away on the downriver side, the earthen walls of the upriver side are still clearly visible if not their full 10 foot depth. The five locks – four lifting and one dread lock at the upstream section are still mostly intact. None of the bridges still remain, but the stone foundations are still intact. Ruins of stone culverts and retaining walls still stand in their original locations.
Visiting Landsford Canal State Park
Established in 1970 when Duke Power donated 194 acres in Chester County the state park has grown to include 448 acres and the entirety of the original two miles of the Landsford Canal.
Hiking at Landsford Canal State Park
Landsford Canal Trail
The highlight of a visit to the state park is the Canal Trail along the ruins of the old canal. The trail is about 1.5 mile long and runs from the picnic area to the south entrance to the park. Along the way you’ll pass the diversion dam in the Catawba River, The dead Lock upstream that let water into the canal, and the Lifting Locks near the south entrance. Along the way the ruins of much of the stone work and retaining walls can be seen. Interpretive signage points out major points of interest.
Landsford Canal Spider Lilies Along the Nature Trail
The Nature Trail is a little over a half mile ling and ends at the Rocky Shoals Spider Lily overlook. At one time, rivers throughout the southeast would fill with white flowers in late May and early June as this aquatic plant would bloom. Today the ones in the rapids of Landsford Canal State Park are the last on the Catawba River and one of only a handful in the entire world.
Along the trail is the home of a nesting pair of Bald Eagles. From lat February to early June they can bee seen caring for their hatchlings next to the river.
Canoe Access at Landsford Canal State Park
The same ting that made the river impassable for barges makes it a great place for adventurous kayakers. The rapids in the park normally class I or II, but can grow to Class III at times. Notices at the park entrance and at the canoe put in list river conditions.
Picnicking/Fishing/Playground at Landsford Canal State Park
A single picnic shelter is in the main part of the park near the playground along with restrooms. The shelter can be reserved, but there are lots of tables scattered around, most right next to the river.
Lots of people fish in the area just upstream from the picnic area near the canoe put in.
Museum at Landsford Canal State Park
The old lock keeper’s house from a canal down river was brought to the park and turned into a museum. It’s open by appointment only and easy to miss.
Lock Keeper’s House At Landsford Canal State Park
t’s not far from the main enhance to Landsford Canal State Park, but the lock keeper’s house is hard to find and lots of people miss it. Originally located at the Rocky Mount Canal downriver from Landsford, the lock keeper’s house was moved here in the 1970’s, restored, and converted into a museum. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been open regularly for many years and has fallen into disrepair.
You can still visit and walk around the outside. There’s a gravel road to the left just as you pass the ranger’s home as you enter the park that will take you right to the lock keeper’s house. Or, directly across the road from the stop sign as you leave the main parking lot, there’s a hill in a small clearing that you can climb up. The house is at the top of the hill.
Note: There’s a map on a kiosk at the south entrance to the park that has a lock keeper’s house near the lifting locks. That’s where the Landsford Canal Lock Keeper’s house stood, but there’s nothing left of it now. The only stone house at the park is the one above.
Final Thoughts About Landsford Canal State Park
Landsford Canal is a small but well maintained state park that’s a great place for a day trip. The picnic tables all have great views of one of the Catawba River shoals and have provided grills.
Although the park boasts two main hiking trails, the Nature Trail and the Canal Trail, both follow the same general path down stream. The Canal Trail splits off from the Nature Trail but then reconnects and they run together to the Spider Lily Overlook. The Canal Trail then splits off again and runs to the south entrance to the park. The only thing you miss by taking the Canal Trail instead of the Nature Trail is the eagle nest. But since both trails are out and back, you can take a different trail back than you took out.
Although the Nature Trail run closer to the Catawba River, neither trail has many great views of the river. A row of trees separates the trail from the river for most of its run. But that does make a nice shady hike during the summer.
The only real complaint I have is that some of the signage could be better. There is a map on the kiosk when you first enter the picnic area, but somehow I missed that on my visit. I got to the trails just by heading down river to see what was there. The signage for where the Canal Trail first splits off really isn’t that great either. But keep in mind that the only trail splitting off runs to the canal.
Perhaps the biggest signage issue was at the Spider Lily Overlook. This one has a sign pointing in the direction of the Canal Trail, but nothing pointing to the lily overlook. If you were to just turn here, you’d never know that you were only a few feet from a great view of the river and the spider lilies when in bloom.
See Also: Landsford Canal State Park Field Report.
Fast Facts About Landsford Canal State Park
|Type:||State Park and Historical Site|
|Admission:||$6/adult 16 years and older; $3.75/S.C. senior; $3.50/child ages 6-15; ages 5 & under free.|
|Location:||2051 Park Dr, Catawba, SC 29704|
Things to do: Hiking, fishing, kayaking, bird watching, picnicking, outdoor historical site, flowers and wildlife