The Santee and Cooper Connection Began Early..

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Even before the American Revolution, South Carolinians dreamed of using their rivers for commerce between the Midlands and the Lowcountry. After the war, the General Assembly chartered a company "for the inland navigation between the Santee and Cooper rivers."

Under the leadership of Gov. William Moultrie, Revolutionary War heroes Gen. Francis Marion and Gen. Thomas Sumter, and other leaders such as John Rutledge and Henry Laurens, the 22-mile Santee Canal was constructed. It cost $750,000, a huge sum for that time.

The Santee Canal began operation in 1800. It linked the two rivers and enabled cargo-laden barges to travel from as far as 90 miles above Columbia, all the way to the port of Charleston.


However, nature and the Industrial Revolution stepped in. Drought periodically dried the canal and the railroads and steamships provided faster and cheaper shipping. By 1850, the charter for the canal was revoked.

The concept of connecting the Santee and Cooper rivers to help support commerce was reborn in the 1920s as a dream of T.C. Williams, a Columbia businessman and entrepreneur.

He believed that a lowland hydroelectric project could provide that link. As owner of the Columbia Railway and Navigation Co., Williams was in the transportation business. He had the vision of carving out two huge lakes and building navigation locks that would provide a waterway for his steam-powered paddlewheel boats to and from Columbia to the port of Charleston.

Williams surveyed the swamps and woodlands of the Lowcountry, developing plans for a massive hydro and navigation project. In 1926 he obtained the federal license to construct it. But his dream came to a crashing halt with the Great Depression.


However, Williams' dream was resurrected in 1933 by a group of resourceful legislators including a young man named Strom Thurmond. They obtained a promise from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for federally funding the project at a time when there were no funds available in the state's meager $6 million budget.

South Carolina legislators took note of the Great Depression "cures" being proposed in Washington under President Roosevelt's New Deal administration. They determined that the rural areas of the state, among the last in the nation without power, should share in the benefits of electrification.

A persistent U.S. Sen. James F. Byrnes convinced President Roosevelt to provide the funding for something that would help pull a South Carolina out of an economic calamity.

Sen. Byrnes persuaded the president that lighting up and energizing the rural areas of the state, where 93 percent of the people were without electricity, could accomplish economic recovery. The means for doing that was to create the power-producing state utility that came to be known as Santee Cooper.

Electrifying the rural areas would improve the quality of life for those who lived there, Byrnes insisted. It would also provide the means to create jobs by allowing for the expansion of business and industry, which at the time were clustered primarily in the urban areas of the state. With passage of enabling legislation in 1934, the General Assembly created the South Carolina Public Service Authority. Its purpose was to construct and operate the Santee Cooper Hydroelectric and Navigation Project.

Private power companies fought the Santee Cooper idea all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally, in April 1939, their injunctions were overturned and work began. Santee Cooper was underway. Construction proceeded at a non-stop pace for 27 months.

Muscles, mules and machines were used to clear the swamps and woodlands, build the dams and dikes, and construct a powerhouse and navigation lock.


To continue reading the history of Santee Cooper click on each title below.

 It was the largest land-clearing project in U.S. history...
 Flow of Power Energized Rural South Carolina
 The value of state ownership
 Why Santee Cooper?
 And the Results? Public Power Owned by the People
 Santee Cooper is the source of power for more than 2 million South Carolinians
 The Commitment