• Historic Columbus

Recreation on the Lower Chattahoochee River

SOURCES: Images of America: Lower Chattahoochee River by The Columbus Museum and the Historic Chattahoochee Commission, 2007. Flowing Through Time: A History of the Lower Chattahoochee River by Lynn Willoughby, 1999.

 

Over this watercourse, humans have drifted for thousands of years. Generations of Native Americans, and later white and African Americans have worshipped its power, marked the seasons of the year by its ebbs and flows, lazed on its sun-dappled banks, swum it, fished it, drunk it, dammed it, and damned it. These are postcard images and photographs that tell the recreation part of its story.

This 1840s image from T. Addison Richards' Georgia Illustrated shows fishermen at a spot on the river near Columbus known as Lover's Leap. The name of the location has its origins in the legend of a Native American couple from rival tribes who allegedly leaped in the river to escape attackers who were angered by their relationship. (Courtesy of the Hargett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, UGA.) Lover's Leap is located approximately at the Bibb Mill and Dam.


As one of the largest steamers on the Chattahoochee at the height of the era of steamboat travel, the Pactolus caused quite a stir when it first visited Columbus. Reportedly, over 100 people steeped aboard to inspect the boat when it arrived at the city wharf at 8:00 PM on October 5, 1886. Those sightseers would surely have been impressed with the boat's spacious dining room, pictured here. This exceedingly rare image is one of the depicts any of the interior spaces on Chattahoochee River steamboats. (Courtesy of the Georgia Archives.)


The small boat in this scene alludes to the popularity of recreational activities along the river in the early 1900s. A scenic stretch of the river immediately north of downtown Columbus, the North Highlands area has been a favorite spot for leisure activities for generation of Chattahoochee Valley citizens. (Courtesy of Dennis Jones.)


These schoolgirls and their chaperones are poised to enjoy an excursion on the tranquil waters of the Chattahoochee River in this August 1908 photograph taken near the Fort Gaines covered bridge. The Elizabeth was apparently a privately operated excursion boat. A 45-star American flag flutters in the breeze on the back of the vessel, as the 46-flag had been adopted only one month prior to this event. Passengers included in this photograph are Nina Morris (Worrill), Mary Lou Killingsworth (Weston), Gena Graham (Pietro), Hellen Morris (Trulock), Sallie Hancock (Coleman), Anna Whatley (Bland), Florence Weston, Ruth Parker (Graham), and Pearl Peterson (Bosler) standing. (Courtesy of the James E. Coleman Collection.)


The Thronateeska Fishing Club was organized in 1913 by a group of Columbus businessmen as a fraternal and recreational organization. The group's clubhouse was in Iola, Florida near the town of Wewahitchka. The name Thronateeska comes from the Creek name for the nearby Flint River. (Courtesy of F. Clason Kyle.) The group, with two African American men who perhaps worked on the boat, are pictured in front of the W.C. Bradley steamboat.


This c.1920 image shows the John W. Callahan in Columbus as it loads passengers for an excursion down the river. Though a popular activity throughout the lower Chattahoochee Valley during the steamboat era, trips such as the one these passengers are about to make soon became rare events. One of the last steamers to operate regularly on the river, the Callahan sank in 1923. (Courtesy of Dennis Jones.)


Festivals and other annual events have been popular recreational activities on the river for generations. In this image, spectators in West Point watch boat races during the 1950 Cotton Festival. (Courtesy of Wayne Clark and Cobb Memorial Archives.)


Construction of West Point Lake began in 1966 and was completed in 1975. To form the lake thousands of acres of Georgia land were inundated by the construction of West Point Dam. This photograph, c. 1970, shows land near West Point being flooded as the river's level began to rise. (Courtesy of the Troup County Archives.)


West Point Lake has become one of the largest tourist attractions in the lower Chattahoochee Valley. This image shows sailboats on the lake shorty after its completion in the 1970s. (Courtesy of the Troup County Archives.)


West Point Lake is a 26,000-acre reservoir with a shoreline of over 500 miles. Encompassing a large section of the river valley north of West Point, the lake backs up the river all the way to Franklin, over 25 miles upriver. A popular spot for boating and fishing. (Courtesy of Wayne Clark and Cobb Memorial Archives.)


Built in 1952 by Robert Hornsby, the Chewalla Motel was Eufaula's first motel. This card advertised air conditioning and steam heat. There were 114 units. (Courtesy of Rob Schaffeld.)


The Lake Eufaula Summer Spectacular featured American Power Boat Association - sanctioned outboard performance class, closed-course, national championship boat races. Often called the Daytona 500 of powerboat racing, this event attracted approximately 200 competitors racing before more than 25,000 spectators. The boat races were held throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s. (Courtesy of Doug Purcell.)


The Chewalla Motel is located directly on Chewalla Creek on Lake Eufaula. Boat travel and recreation breathed new life into Eufaula after the Chattahoochee River was impounded in the early 1960s. As Eufaula grew, so did the motel. More units were added and a restaurant. Today, it is known as the Lakeside Motor Lodge. (Courtesy of Rob Schaffeld.)


Today, the stretch of the Chattahoochee River that runs between downtown Columbus and downtown Phenix City is home to the longest urban whitewater rafting course in the world. The course was created when the Eagle & Phenix and City Mills dams were breached in 2013. It consists of more than five rapids that can reach class IV or higher, as well as 10 smaller rapids. The rapids on the Chattahoochee can reach up to 13,000 cubic feet per second in volume during high water release levels. By comparison, the rapids on the Ocoee River in North Georgia and Tennessee can reach up to 1,100 cubic feet per second in volume. The speed of the rapids on the Chattahoochee makes them the largest whitewater rapids south of Canada and east of Colorado. Just as the region's earliest inhabitants, those living along the river today enjoy a variety of types of recreational activities on the Chattahoochee. The creation of lakes along the river in the 20th century, especially nationally known fishing attractions such as Lake Eufaula/Walter F. George, West Point Lake, and Lake Seminole have only enhanced its well-established recreational opportunities. Recreation has certainly become one of the major economic benefits to the region. Next Week: We will feature the recipients of the 2022 Preservation Awards. These projects have made a significant impact in their neighborhoods and in making our community a better place. Historic Columbus is thankful for this incredible private investment. Thank you all again for your continued interest in these emails and for your support of preservation! See you next week!

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