These modern locks service the transition from the Santee River to the Cooper River for recreational boating in South Carolina.
Completed in 1800, the 22-mile long Santee Canal, with three wooden locks, was the first canal built in America. Lifting boats to the Cooper River, the canal locks served commercial vessels in the transit of rice, cotton, dye, and other agricultural goods to Charleston, South Carolina, for shipment to all parts of the New World, England, and Europe. In the 1850’s, the canal fell into disuse as a result of persistent drought.
Private plantation owners financed these locks in the absence of local government support. Under the new U. S. Constitution, Congress lacked the express power to build inland waterways and locks at federal taxpayer expense. Moreover, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, delegates voted down investing in Congress the power to construct canals. It would be decades before Congress would support inland waterways, using the Commerce Clause as its rationale.