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Traveling - Lake History

Lake Dense
Family time is memory-making time on Lake Dense, where a picture-perfect view of Joanna Mountain enhances a day of fishing. DuPont State Recreational Forest reveals dozens of precious hideaways along the trails and by the water.
Photo Credit: Transylvania Tourism |

Smooth sheets of glass that ripple with images of towering pine and tupelo, the manmade lakes of the Carolinas are home to large and small mouth bass, bream, crappie, trout, catfish, and other aquatic life.

The miles of shoreline feature secluded coves, wilderness, camping grounds, parks and hundreds of homes. The eagle, the osprey, the hawk patrol the skies overhead.

Lurking in the depths of these human creations are buried towns, churches, cemeteries and dreams. Lake Marion inundated the home of its namesake -- Revolutionary hero Francis Marion.

The waters of Keowee-Toxaway cover the ancient Cherokee center of Keowee Old Town. The lands beneath Lake Murray were once home to 5,000 individuals, three churches, six schools, and 193 cemeteries. The waters of the B. Everett Jordan Lake cover the homes of eighteenth century Scottish highlanders.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers, Civilian Conservation Corps, Duke Power, Santee-Cooper and South Carolina Electric and Gas were major players in the creation and management of the 42 lakes that dot the Carolinas.

The utilitarian nature of their origins cannot dim the beauty of these lakes. Many lie within national forests. Others are near urban centers such as Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, and Columbia. Lakefront property is valuable real estate. Many lakes feature resorts, marinas, docks, and boat landings. Building these glimmering jewels brought recreation to the heartland, the Piedmont, and the mountainous areas of the Carolinas.

The lakes of the Carolinas are similar, yet unique. Lake James in North Carolina, named for James B. Duke, the founder of Duke Power, is a 6,500-acre body of water created by damming the Catawba River. Duke Power has other lakes on the Catawba River -- Lake Hickory, Lookout Shoals Lake, and Rhodhiss Lake. The dams at these lakes provide hydroelectric power for the Catawba Valley.

Bald eagles nest around the dam on Badin Lake and the town of Badin is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.

W. Kerr Scott Lake is named for former North Carolina Governor William Kerr Scott; devastating flooding by the Yadkin-Pee Dee River led the Corps to its creation. The W. Kerr Scott Reservoir nestles in the heart of the historic Yadkin Valley in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thousands of Scots-Irish and German settlers streamed down the Great Warrior Path from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley into the Yadkin Valley and the Piedmont of South Carolina. In 1945 a disastrous hurricane struck the Cape Fear River Basin. The comprehensive study of water needs that followed led the Corps to develop the B. Everett Jordan Lake.

Seven counties in the central piedmont of North Carolina comprise the Uwharrie Lakes Region -- Anson, Davidson, Montgomery, Randolph, Richmond, Rowan, and Stanley. The Catawba, Saponi and Pee Dee once lived there. In this area, the Uwharrie River joins the Yadkin to form the Pee Dee River that flows through South Carolina to the Atlantic Ocean. The Yadkin-Pee Dee River forms a common boundary between the seven counties. Six manmade lakes decorate this boundary -- Badin Lake, Blewett Falls Lake, Falls Lake, High Rock Lake, Lake Tillery, and Tuckertown Reservoir. High Rock Lake in Davidson County lies near Healing Springs, a former mineral spring resort. In 1912 a subsidiary of L'Aluminum Francaise began building a dam on the Narrows of the Yadkin River and the town of Badin. Before the project was completed, World War I intervened and the French firm sold the dam and town project to Alcoa. Today, bald eagles nest around the dam on Badin Lake and the town of Badin is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.

Damming the Santee River, one of the longest on the eastern seaboard, required considerable engineering expertise.

A 1.5-mile-long earthen dam, the largest in the world when it was built, created Lake Murray, named for William S. Murray, chief engineer for the project, near Columbia, South Carolina. During World War II B-24 and B-25 bomber crews practiced low-level bombing on island lakes. Some of these bomber crews flew with General James H. Doolittle's Raiders on April 18, 1942 when they bombed Tokyo.

Built to supply electric power, the lakes of Santee-Cooper -- Lake Marion and Lake Moutlrie -- have also served as magnets to draw new industries to South Carolina. Santee-Cooper provides power to thousands of South Carolinians in 27 counties below the fall line either directly or through the sale of power to electric cooperatives. Damming the Santee River, one of the longest on the eastern seaboard, required considerable engineering expertise.

The Corps of Engineers built Lake Hartwell on the Savannah River for flood control and is named for Nancy Hart, a Revolutionary War heroine. The Hartwell region was once home to the Cherokee and the lake is near Fort Ninety-Six, colonial frontier outpost. Lake Russell, another Corps project on the Savannah River, is named for Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell. The lake opened in 1984 and is South Carolina's newest lake. The third Corps lake on the Savannah is Lake Thurmond, formerly Clark's Hill Reservoir. This 70,000-acre lake, named for South Carolina's senior United States Senator Strom Thurmond, is one of South Carolina's largest.

The lakes are balms for the jaded nerves of commuters and relief for the stresses of modern life.

Duke Power Company dammed the Saluda and Reedy Rivers to create Lake Greenwood; located in three adjoining South Carolina counties. Duke Power also owns Lake Jocassee, a scenic mountain lake and Lake Keowee, created by damming the Keowee and Little Rivers. Lake Wylie, built on the Catawba River in 1926, straddles the boundary between the Carolinas.

Today, the lakes of the Carolinas lure anglers, retirees, water sports enthusiasts, bird watchers, hikers, and all those seeking an enhanced quality of life. The lakes are balms for the jaded nerves of commuters and relief for the stresses of modern life. Artists, photographers, authors, and cinematographers have also discovered the natural beauty of the Carolina lakes.

In addition to providing electric power and reducing area flooding, many of the lakes of the Carolinas also provide water for neighboring cities. The B. Everett Jordan Lake illustrates the multipurpose nature of these lakes including flood control, outdoor recreation, fish and wildlife conservation, and furnishing water for the Cape Fear Basin.

Man dammed the rivers of the Carolinas to produce electricity, reduce flooding, and create reservoirs. The lakes that flooded ancient burial grounds, Revolutionary battle sites, colonial homesteads, villages, mills, and churches bring recreation, waterfront living, and tourism to the land-bound reaches of the Carolinas. In exercising his dominion over the earth, man forever changed the landscape of the Carolinas.

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