Both Augusta and Hamburg were built on low ground for easy access to the Savannah River. And the river threatened their existence with a damaging “freshet” or flood about every 15 years. (Page 7 of this report has a great rundown on Savannah River floods since 1796.) While both cities suffered equally for many years, Augusta finally gained an advantage in 1915 with the construction of its first levee. While both this levee and the power canal occasionally failed the test in following years, the levee proved its worth in 1925 when a modest flood passed Augusta by, but hit Hamburg as usual.

In 1929 the levee saved most of Augusta from what could have been its most devastating flood ever. On the other side of the river, hard flowing water swept through Hamburg for two solid weeks and killed the town for good. Its buildings finally destroyed, rebuilding was pointless with flood-safe land visible directly across the river.

Despite its lifesaving levee, Augusta was still not completely free of the river. For example, a canal wall blowout in 1940 flooded much of the old city. Augusta finally became secure in 1953, with the Clarks Hill / Strom Thurmond dam providing suspenders to back up the levee’s belt.

With trust in this dam South Carolina has taken another run at the Hamburg site, with executive riverside mansions, a golf course, and maybe even a baseball stadium. Time will tell if the dam is enough by itself. In the meantime, Augusta remembers hard earned lessons and keeps its levee in good repair.


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