The Catawba River, named for the Catawba Indian tribe, begins in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. It enters South Carolina through Rock Hill, winds through the Piedmont, and drains into the Lake Wateree reservoir. There it converges with the Big Wateree Creek to become the Wateree River. The 217-mile-long course was declared a Scenic River by Governor Mark Sanford in 2008.
A section of the river rushes through Landsford Canal State Park just below Rock Hill and boasts the largest stand of rocky shoals spider lily (Hymenocallis coronaria) in the world. The flower (seen below) is a species of concern and grows in the rare habitat of exposed rocky shoals in clean, fast-flowing rivers.
Though more than sixty other stands of the flower can be found in the southeast, the spectacle of spider lilies along the Catawba River is a rare sight and celebrated by nature lovers in May of each year, the flower’s peak blooming season.
While the river is beloved for its proliferation of spider lilies, the Catawba River projects a serene beauty in all seasons. Below, the warm and vibrant tones of a summer sunset set the landscape ablaze with rousing allure.
Ashe’s Ferry, located between Lancaster and York Counties, crossed the Catawba River for more than 30 years. Starting as a private operation, the ferry was built in 1927-28 by William N. Ashe, owner of Ashe Brick Company. A nominal fee of 25 cents for buggies and 35 cents for cars was charged and it was a popular location to transport bricks and crops. Early Morgan Brown, a Catawba Indian, operated the ferry for many years.
The ferry was later taken over by the South Carolina Department of Transportation in 1944. Originally operated by poles, a small motor was installed in 1955 but closed just four years later when the ferry was replaced with a bridge.
Reflections on the Catawba River
Jim Dollar, who contributed many of 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.”
Thomas Roth, who contributed the photo below, writes, “Traveling south off Exit 65 on Highway 9 towards Richburg begins the 12-mile journey towards the Catawba River and Landsford Canal State Park. Nestled along the eastern shore of the Catawba River, this park has several features that make it unique. An easy-to-walk trail offers the photographer several photographic challenges. The park was created to preserve the remnants of this historic canal, but it offers much more. The park also offers a wonderful chance to walk along the Catawba River. The nature trail that accompanies the park is an easy trail to walk. Its terrain is almost completely flat and well-maintained.”
Finally, photographer Teri Leigh Teed shares her experience visiting the Catawba River: “On the day before Halloween, I visited the Catawba Reservation and walked the woodland path to the Catawba River. Having the path all to myself was a joy, and it was a short walk to the river’s edge. This photo was taken near the circle cleared in the woods by the river. It is a peaceful place and a great honor to walk here.”