Land under the Lakes: The Santee Cooper Project
As you voyage down Lake Moultrie or fish on the waters of Lake Marion, the beautiful waters and lush surrounding forests will surely catch your breath. You probably marvel at how wonderful nature is. Surprisingly though, the beauty surrounding you is far from natural. Because South Carolina’s Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion are in fact, man-made lakes, created by the Santee Cooper Project.
In the early 1900s, it used to be a dream to connect South Carolina’s Santee and Cooper Rivers. As early as 1917, public officials recognized the potential offered by linking the two rivers. It would make travel and navigation easier, in turn, improving the state’s economy. In 1939, with the inception of the Santee Cooper Project, the dream turned into reality. Two lakes, Moultrie and Marion were created by flooding land, two dams, the Santee and Pinopolis, were built and two canals were finally dug up to join the lakes. This gave birth to the Santee Cooper Lake system which not only improved navigation and commerce, it also supplied electricity to the even the poorest areas of South Carolina, permanently improving people’s lives.
Creating the lake system did not come without a price. Forests were cleared to make way for the lakes, forcing forest dwelling creatures to seek other habitats. Close to a thousand families had to be relocated. While residents had no choice about moving, property owners and homeowners were paid higher than the fair market value on their property and homes. They were also moved in groups to ensure that the community dynamic remained. Plantations had to be moved. Six thousand graves were dug up and relocated. Churches, schools and homesites that dated back to the Colonial times were left to be swallowed by the waters.
A lot of sacrifices had to be made to make way for the Santee Cooper Project. While they were heartbreaking, the economic rewards that the lake system had on the surrounding counties and the whole state was monumental. Even the men who were chosen to work on the project benefited from having jobs and from learning.
Even today, South Carolina continues to profit from the Santee Cooper Project. Tourism jobs and tourism dollars boost the state’s economy. What was a tremendous gamble in the 1930s and 1940s proved to be an insightful decision that will keep the economy flourishing and the state thriving.