Our recent small series on the Dismal Swamp was so well received on our Facebook page and there were so many requests for reprints, that we’ve decided to repost the series here for those who missed part of it.
Please be sure to visit the Facebook page for the Welcome Center, also.
There is some debate as to who exactly discovered the swamp and when. When the state line was surveyed in 1728, Colonel William Byrd II provided the first description. George Washington visited in May of 1763, and advocated for draining and digging a canal that would connect Albarmarle Sound with Cheasapeake Bay. Two syndicates, Dismal Swamp Land Company and Adventurers for Draining the Great Dismal Swamp, were formed to accomplish this. The goal was to drain, harvest the trees, and then use the land for farming. Many cypress trees were cut for shipbuilding, and Washington Ditch connected Lake Drummond with the western edge of the swamp. In the late 1700s, Riddick Ditch was completed.
in 1796, Washington sold his share to “Lighthorse” Harry Lee, who was the father of Robert E. Lee. However, Harry Lee was unable to raise his part of the funds, and the land eventually passed to the Washington heirs in 1799.
In 1909, the land came under the ownership of Camp Mfg. Company (predecessor of Union Camp). After acres of trees were removed, Union Camp donated their part to the Nature Conservancy, who eventually turned it over to the Department of the Interior. At this point, it became the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
Please note: the majority of this information comes from the brochure put out by State Parks..with a little other random research thrown in.
To access the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center:
2356 US Hwy 17 N.
South Mills, NC
toll free: 877 771 8333