Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park


The Early Past

Prehistoric foragers hunted the area and fished its waters. The Congaree Indians claimed the floodplain and Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto recounted the intrigue of the area in his journals. Around 1700, the Congarees were decimated by a smallpox epidemic introduced with the arrival of European settlers. The new residents obtained land grants from the King of England until 1776 when the state of South Carolina assumed the right to distribute ownership of the land. Attempts to make the land suitable for planting, as well as grazing, continued through 1860. The floodplain's minor changes in elevation and consequent flooding stifled agricultural activity; but the intermittent flooding allowed for soil nutrient renewal and enabled the area's trees to thrive. Bald Cypress, in particular, became a target for logging. By 1905, the Santee River Cypress Lumber Company, owned by Francis Beidler, had acquired much of the land. Poor accessibility by land confined logging to tracts near waterways so that logs could be floated down river. In the perpetual dampness, though, many of the cut trees remained too green to float. Operations were suspended within ten years, leaving the floodplain basically untouched.

Recent Events

In 1969 relatively high timber prices prompted private landowners to consider resuming logging operations. As a result of an effective "grass roots" campaign launched by the Sierra Club and many local individuals, Congress established Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976. That designation was not enough to protect the area from the force of Hurricane Hugo in September 1989. The park lost several National Champion trees, but the overall effect was a natural stimulus to growth. Hugo snapped tree tops, thereby allowing sunlight to come through the canopy, promoting new growth beneath. Fallen trees have provided shelter for many species of organisms; standing dead trees became new homes for a variety of plant and animal species, including fungi, insects, reptiles, birds, and bats.

On June 30, 1983 Congaree Swamp National Monument was designated an International Biosphere Reserve. In July of 2001 it was designated a Globally Important Bird Area, and on November 10, 2003 it was designated as the nation's 57th National Park..

Historic Timeline of Congaree

1540Hernando de Soto passes through the Columbia area.
1570Spanish outposts abandoned.
1670Charlestowne established.
1698Congaree Indians lose most tribe members to smallpox.
1730Governor develops plan for inland settlements.
1776Francis Marion hides from British in SC forests.
1785Richland County established.
1786City of Columbia named as State Capital.
1786Isaac Huger begins construction of ferry system to cross Congaree River.
1839-41James Adams and others use slave labor to begin construction of dikes at NW and SW boundaries of Congaree Swamp.
1840'sCattle mounts built near dikes within COSW in effort to make land useful for grazing.
1861First shots fired at Fort Sumter; Civil War begins.
1865Lee surrenders; Civil War ends.
1895Francis Beidler acquires tracts of floodplain throughout SC; logging begins on some portions.
1915Logging operations cease.
1969Renewed logging interest sparks urgency to acquire public ownership of COSW.
1974Congaree Swamp National Monument designated as a National Natural Landmark.
1976Congaree Swamp National Monument established by the 94th U.S. Congress.
1983Congaree Swamp National Monument designated as a International Biosphere Reserve.
1989Hurricane Hugo makes big impact on the Congaree forest.

Congaree designated as a Globally Important Bird Area, dedication of Harry Hampton Visitor Center, and 25th Anniversary of Congaree Swamp National Monument.

2003Designation as Congaree National Park.