A Visit to the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Museum and Nature Center

This morning I went out to the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Museum and Nature Center on Georgia Highway 204 at Bush Rd. I had been thinking about visiting for a while now and since I didn’t have anything else going on this morning, I went out for a visit. When I left the house, it wasn’t raining. When I parked at the Museum and Nature Center, it wasn’t raining. As soon as I started trying to walk the trails, it started drizzling rain. I eventually cut short the visit, but I did get the chance to walk a couple of the trails (unfortunately, the museum was in use for something else and I wasn’t able to check it out – I’ll do that when I go back).

Before I get into the trail walking, an overview of the canal is in order. It was chartered in 1824 and built between 1826 and 1830 by Irish laborers and slaves. It was opened for use in 1831 and continued in use through the 1890s. It spanned 16 miles from the Ogeechee River to the Savannah River and used a system of six locks. Two of the locks were tidal locks for entering and exiting the canal from or into the Ogeechee and Savannah Rivers, the other four locks helped move barges through elevation changes along the canal. A tow path for pulling barges ran along each side of the canal. From the 1840s to the 1860s, the canal had a major impact on coastal Georgia’s economy; it moved agricultural goods, lumber, and naval stores, and other goods from the interior to the coastal ports. The canal saw decreased use after the fall of Fort Pulaski closed the Savannah port and damage to the canal resulted in it being closed briefly after the war. Use gradually declined after the Civil War until the canal ceased to be used in the 1890s.

Drawing of the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal’s Lock 5 (from Library of Congress)
Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Lock 5, from here the canal continues to the Ogeechee River
The mouth of Savannah-Ogeechee Lock 5, from here the canal leads to Lock 6 where it meets the Ogeechee River
These sandstone blocks are capstones for the lock’s gate hinges, you can see where there were iron straps on them

There are two locks on the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Museum and Nature Center’s property. One, Lock 5, is one of the lift locks and is right next to the museum. This is one of the locks that helped move the barges along elevation changes. Lock 5 was made of brick with two wooden gates; it worked by using the gates to close the lock off from the canal. Once the gates were closed, a sluice gate near the bottom of the gates would be used to let water out and drop the barge down to a lower level or let water in to raise the barge up to a higher level.

Replica of one of the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Lock Gates (you can see the sluice gate at the bottom)
Replica of one of the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Lock Gates (you can see the sluice gate at the bottom)
Close up of the sluice gate at the bottom of the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal replica Lock Gate
Tow Path trail along the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal
Tow Path trail along the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal

\From Lock 5, you can follow the Tow Path trail to Lock 6 at the Ogeechee River. There are some low spots on this trail and when the Ogeechee is high like it is now, the path can be covered with water at places during high tide. I only found one spot this morning that had a bit of water, but I was able to go around it and made it to Lock 6. At Lock 6, however, the river was covering part of the path and area around the lock. Lock 6 is one of the two tidal locks and was used for moving barges from the river into the canal or from the canal into the river.

Drawing of the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal’s Lock 6, which connected the canal to the Ogeechee River (from Library of Congress)
The mouth of Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Lock 6
The brick walls of Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Lock 6
The Ogeechee River from Savannah-Ogeechee Lock 6, you can see how high the water level on the Ogeechee and around the lock is

This was as far as you could go on the Tow Path trail, it looked like there was a bridge that you could follow off to the left, but it was under water as was any way of getting to it. I turned around and went back down the path to Lock 5, where I began walking down the Jencke’s Road trail. Another trail, the Ridge Trail, branches off to the left but it looked like it was going to be rather muddy, so I stayed on the Jencke’s Road trail back to the Ogeechee River. This trail is higher elevation so it didn’t have any water or mud issues. It runs roughly alongside the canal but bends slightly away from the canal as you get closer to the Ogeechee River.

The Jencke’s Road trail at the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Museum and Nature Center
Looking up the Ogeechee River at the end of the Jencke’s Road Trail at the
Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Museum and Nature Center
Looking down the Ogeechee River at the end of the Jencke’s Road Trail at the
Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Museum and Nature Center

I thoroughly enjoyed my look at a lesser-known but fascinating part of Savannah’s history this morning. I definitely plan on getting back on another day when it isn’t raining and the water isn’t as high to finish walking the trails and go inside the museum. The trails I took weren’t hard walks, but I suspect during warmer weather they will be very buggy and that you would have to watch your step for snakes. I took my camera with a 500mm zoom lens, but I didn’t see very much besides some songbirds to try to take photos of. The lighting wasn’t very good either, when I tried to take a couple of photos, there just wasn’t enough good light for that size lens. I did see a lot of raccoon tracks and I’m guessing that it could be a good spot for sighting some wading birds and alligators in areas.

Admission is only $3 for adults, so I would highly recommend visiting the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Museum and Nature Center to learn a little bit more about our area’s history.



Categories: Chatham County, History, Ogeechee River, Savannah, Savannah River, Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Museum and Nature Center

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