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College of Arts & Sciences
Maritime Research Division

Garner’s Mill Flood Damage Assessment

MRD Archaeologists Participate in Fort Jackson Flood Damage Assessment of Historic Richland County Site

by Daniel Mark Brown

On February 2, 2016, underwater archaeologists from the Maritime Research Division (MRD) of the South Carolina Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA) from the University of South Carolina (UofSC) traveled to Fort Jackson and met with SCANG archaeologist Jason Moson to assess Site 38RD536/620, otherwise known as Garner’s Mill. Located on Fort Jackson’s McGrady Training Center along Colonel’s Creek, the remains of a milldam were first observed in 1992 and surveyed in 2005. After the catastrophic flood in October 2015, it was noted by Moson that the remains of the dam were disturbed, several crossbeams becoming dislodged being tossed ashore or washed downstream. While the MRD team assessed the mill dam remains, Moson continued recording what appeared to be the remains of a corduroy road just before the bridge; a corduroy road is made by laying lateral timbers marshy or muddy areas to facilitate transportation. The flood had scoured several feet of macadam and sediment to unearth several large timbers perpendicular to the damaged modern road. It is likely the building of the road correlates to the building of Garner’s Mill and may have been part of the overall mill system.

            Meanwhile, upstream, MRD Head Jim Spirek and Tech Joe Beatty waded into the chilly creek to take measurements of remaining timbers that made up the dam. Underwater Archaeologist Dan Brown recorded dimensions of dislodged crossbeams onshore. Of the 17 crossbeams spanning the creek recorded in 2005, all were accounted for. Thirteen remain in place, four crossbeams having been cast ashore the southern bank of the creek during the flood. Most of the smaller timbers and planks recorded in 2005 were gone, with several planks also washed ashore. Wooden fasteners, or treenails, appeared to be the primary means of fastening the planks to the crossbeams. The crossbeams were all notched to be seated in anchor beams, or sills, embedded in the north bank the length of the damn, mortised to create a girder pocket that receives the notched ends of the crossbeams. The few planks located onshore appear to have been fastened with both treenails and iron nails. One representative crossbeam onshore measured 32feet long, 1 foot wide, and 14 inches in height. The notch at the end was 10 inches in height, extending 4 ½ inches to the end of the crossbeam and 4 inches thick, with 76 treenails or treenail holes recorded. Further downstream archaeologists located the wheel axle photographed in 2005 embedded at a slight angle along the south bank. Its length measured 6 feet with a diameter of 1 foot. There are two pair of notches, likely serving to turn a crank mechanism. After recording the site, Moson led the archaeologists downstream more than a mile past the Colonel’s Creek Bridge showing just how far the flood washed the dam scantlings. It was remarkable to see the covering of sand scattered in the woods along the shore, some places over a foot deep. It gave a good visual indication of the powerful floodwaters.

            It is interesting to the author to note the use of lateral timbers, or crossbeams to construct both the corduroy road and the milldam suggest a similar philosophy of construction. We currently know little about the historical settlement of this area known as Noah’s Marsh, but initial research suggests late 1700s to early 1800s. To walk the woods and marsh now there is no sign of habitation or development other than the dam, however archaeological survey conducted in 2005 revealed 54 positive shovel tests out of 179. How long Garner’s Mill operated remains unknown at this time. Additional archival research might reveal more about this important site, as it reflects the burgeoning development of mills in the Columbia area after the American Revolution that was part of a nationwide trend in economic, territorial, and demographic expansion and thus an important slice of the history of Richland County.