At 448 acres, Landsford Canal State Park stretches across both Chester and Lancaster counties, brimming with cultural and natural history. Running parallel to the majestic Catawba River (seen below), the park includes Native American artifacts dating 10,000 years into the past, remnants of a gristmill, the stone walls of former locks, a lock keeper’s house, a museum, walking trails, and a spectacular spring display of rocky shoal spider lilies (Hymenocallis coronaria).
The land encompassing the park was granted to Thomas Land in 1754. The area abuts a ford, or a section of river shallow enough to cross on foot or horse, lending to the name Land’s Ford. The name eventually became Landsford. During the Revolutionary War, Land’s Ford proved instrumental in providing a safe place to cross the Catawba River for both the British and the Patriots.
Lord Cornwallis and his men crossed the ford on their march from Charlotte, North Carolina to Winnsboro, following the Battle of King’s Mountain in October of 1780. A few months earlier, in August, General Thomas Sumter also crossed the river here and used the surrounding area as an encampment just days prior to the Battle of Hanging Rock.
General Sumter fought alongside General William Richardson Davie, who later served as Governor of North Carolina and founded the University of North Carolina in the late eighteenth century. Davie retired from public service and established a plantation, Tivoli, on this site in 1805, along with a gristmill. He died in 1820, and his plantation home was burned during the Civil War. Remnants of the mill are visible at the park, as is a late-eighteenth century log cabin, built sometime between the Revolutionary War and Davie’s occupancy of the land.
The rocky shoals that made the Catawba River safe to cross also created an impediment for boats attempting to transport cotton and other goods from the upper part of the state. Thus, in 1820, construction began on a canal running laterally to the river to create a navigable water route. The Landsford Canal was built as one of a series of four canals on the Catawba and Wateree rivers. These four canals were part of a larger canal system of eight canals developed during that time which enabled all of the state’s districts to be accessible by water, with the exception of Greenville.
Landsford Canal was designed by renowned architect Robert Mills, State Architect and Engineer for the South Carolina Board of Public Works from 1820 through 1830. Together he and Robert Leckie, an engineer, built this two-mile long canal consisting of five locks, or walled and gated chambers that allow the raising and lowering of water vessels through control of the water level. The stone remnants of lock walls are pictured above and below.
The canal was completed in 1823, built by both slaves and white laborers and made of locally-quarried granite. It was employed only briefly, however, and by 1840 the Landsford Canal was no longer in use. Though the canal was considered an excellent example of engineering, problems arose in 1824 when one of the canal’s walls collapsed. By 1836 all of the canals along the Catawba and Wateree were suffering from structural problems, and boat traffic tapered off significantly. As railroads began to replace shipping, canals such as this one became obsolete.
The conditions of this section of the Catawba River – a clean, fast-flowing river of exposed rocks – make it a great habitat for rocky shoal spider lilies, pictured above. In fact, the population of spider lilies here is the largest stand of the flower in the world. When the spider lilies are in bloom from mid-May through mid-June, people gather along the riverbanks or even in the river itself to absorb the breathtaking scene.
Though dozens of other stands of rocky shoal spider lilies can be viewed throughout the southeast, including in the Broad River, most people agree that the abundance of blooming lilies within the Catawba River each spring is a sight like no other.
Duke Power Company, which owned this land for much of the twentieth century, donated 194 acres in Chester County – including the property encompassing the canal – to the state for use as a park in 1970. Nearly 20 years later the state acquired 44 more acres in a land swap. Finally, the state bought 210 acres in abutting Lancaster County in 1998.
Today park guests may walk the one-and-a-half mile long Canal Trail, visit the former lock keeper’s house (seen above), which is now a museum, and of course, enjoy the river. Access for canoes and kayaks is available, and fishing is allowed with appropriate permits. Tours of the grounds and its many ruins are available through both guided and self-guided walks.
Landsford Canal is listed in the National Register:
(Landsford Canal State Park) Historically, the Landsford Canal, completed about 1823, was an important transportation link for about fifteen years. The immediate area was involved in military movement from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War. The canal remains as the only canal existing in its entirety without encroachment in the state. The Canal parallels a two-mile section of the Catawba River. As part of the inland navigation system from the Up Country to Charleston, a series of Catawba canals were begun in 1819 and completed several years later. Landsford Canal, the highest in the system, was built by engineer Leckie. Within this section, the River falls thirty-four feet. The Canal consists of three sets of locks, a mill site, miller’s house, and a lockkeeper’s house—all in various forms of decay and ruins. The tract, including an aboriginal ford, was granted to Thomas Land in 1754, thus the derivation of its name.
More Pictures of Lock Ruins – Landsford Canal State Park
Reflections on Landsford Canal State Park
Jim Dollar, who contributed the photos above, shares his experience viewing the spider lilies in May: “Canoeists, kayakers, and bank sitters gape and stare and break into song at the sight – and gather the next year to do it again.”
Frequent contributor Donna Edgeworth of Scranton in Florence County describes her visit as follows: “Landsford Canal State Park is the home to the rocky shoals spider lilies that bloom in the Catawba River every year in late May and early June. It is quite a little hike in the woods to get to the overlook to see them, but once you get there, the view is spectacular. People travel from miles away just to see them. Plus while you are there you can see the remains of the canal.”
Michael Mascari of Blythewood writes: “Landsford Canal State Park is a true gem! You should check out the lilies when in bloom, there are two historic buildings there that are worth taking a look at. Both of them pre-date 1800. One of them is in use as the Rangers office. It is a restored cabin that was moved there in the 1970s.
The other one is the lock keepers house, which has been restored. The lock keepers house was designed by Robert Mills, one of the designers of the locks. The lock ruins, featured in the picture, are pretty extensive. Mills and Poinsett (of the Poinsettia fame) administered The lock system which was only used for a few years in the early 1800s.
The Great Philadelphia Wagon Road goes through there, and you can cross the bridge over the lock. It was a road used in colonial times that follows along an ancient Indian Road. The area is very nice, it is not far from Columbia or Charlotte, and it is a true hidden gem. You can also see a beautiful old plantation home right next to the park.”