Columbia’s historical markers: Wateree River Ferries

Wateree River | Photo via @adventuresofasoutherngal

Columbia’s rivers are not only beautiful and provide great recreational fun, but they are also flowing with history. Today we will jump into the story of a river that we don’t talk about often but provided resources to communities long ago. 

The Wateree River flows approx. 75 miles along Richland, Kershaw, and Sumter counties. It stretches from Camden down to Eastover, is filled with water from the Wateree Dam + connects to the Congaree River near Congaree National Park. 

Kershaw County Geological and Agricultural Map in 1873 | Image from the Historic Resources Survey via the State Historic Preservation Office

The river got its name from the Wateree Tribe, which were considered one of the first + most powerful Native American tribes in the state, and the settlements date back to the late 1560s. Records show that the group lived along the river in the 1700s near what is currently Kershaw County. 

The word Wateree is believed to be from the Catawba language and translates to wateranmeaning “to float on the water.” 

Fast forward to the Revolutionary War (think mid-1770s), when the river was used to transport goods, including wheat, tobacco, indigo, and cotton, and people on ferries. 

Ferry boats grew quickly in popularity for transportation to neighboring regions. This included the Simmons Ferry  1763that connected Columbia to the Sumter area about 45 miles away. 

The road leading to the ferry was originally a Catawba path. Today, a 25-mile marker sign can still be spotted on the north side of a dirt road, which runs parallel to Garners Ferry Road — but we will come back to this. 

In 1783, the same ferry changed its name to Brisbane, due to new ownership when the government handed it to Adam Fowler Brisbane. Brisbane was a magistrate in Richland County and was in control of the ferry until his death in 1799. 

Later in 1818, the ferry changed names again to Garners Ferry (sounds familiar, right?), which was operated until the early 1920s when a bridge was built across the river. The bridge remains today as a portion of what we now know as Garners Ferry Road.

The Wateree River Bridge | Image from The State Newspaper Photograph Archive via Richland Library 

When railroads became more popular, the Wateree River returned to its original role of providing water + food to local residents. Today, you can find folks heading to the riverbanks for fun. Want to join them? Check out this resource for landings and entry points.

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