- “Anthony Shoals, Broad River, Georgia,” Oil on Canvas by Philip Juras, http://www.PhilipJuras.com
Many times my Mom has spoken of Anthony Shoals as a place prominent in her childhood memories. “It was,” she said, “our beach.” It’s a special place I wanted to see but couldn’t. It didn’t exist anymore.
As a girl, my Mom and her family spent special times there. She remembers quite accurately that the shoals had mountain laurel and rhododendron. They had fish fries and a lot of get-togethers up above the shoals in a place that amounted to a natural campground. Of course there was no electricity but there was a spring that provided water.
As for food, they would pack up live chickens and take everything you needed to cook with, lard, staples, and more. Numerous families would be there. Mom said it was where farming families vacationed after they “laid by.” “They’d take watermelons, cantaloupes … mama took a flour sack of homemade biscuits and we’d haul everything there in a wagon pulled by two mules,” she said.
They would swim and what a joy that must have been on a hot summer day. It seems rustic now but looking back that’s how life was. It’s romantic in the sense that it serves up an idealized view of a difficult time. It was a time when most of the creature comforts we take for granted didn’t exist and that, too, further underscores what a special place Anthony Shoals was. It was in a very real way an oasis. A “beach-like” adventure only I find it better than today’s beaches.
I myself have memories of the place. I remember a fish fry I went to there as a young boy. Three things stand out from that day. The beautiful rock-studded waters, the feeling that this place was special, and how a man scoured a frying pan with river sand until it shone like a mirror. Oddly I have no memory of eating fried fish that day.
All my life I assumed the entire shoals were beneath Clark Hill Lake, and that confused me because I did some math and I should have been too young to remember the place. Still, I had this memory of a place that I didn’t think existed, and I just couldn’t square things in my mind. Clark Hill dam was completed in 1954 and surely the waters had covered Anthony Shoals, but no I was mistaken.
Sometimes it’s great to be wrong. Anthony Shoals still exists. In fact, it’s part of the Broad River Wildlife Management Area. You’ll find rapids at Anthony Shoals, a very long series of rapids of Class II difficulty. You’ll also find a channel cut through ledges so barges from yesteryear could travel upstream. Canoeists and kayakers love the shoals.
What’s not to love? Grassy islets, forest-clad slopes, and a rocky streambed hosting rushing water make for a picturesque setting. And it gets even prettier come spring. Anthony Shoals is the only place on the Broad River that supports the rare shoal lilies that dwell on Southeast fall line rivers. History lives here too. The area also harbors remnants from previous settlements, including Native American mounds and the ruins of old mills and factories from the 1700s.
In researching Anthony Shoals I ran across stunning paintings by Augusta native, Philip Juras. In 1997, he earned a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from the University of Georgia, writing his thesis on the pre-settlement savannas that once flourished across the southeastern piedmont. Philip, who lives in Athens, focuses primarily on remnant natural landscapes that offer a glimpse of the Southeast before European settlement changed so many things. An artist quite often is passionate about his subject matter and so is Philip.
Here’s an excerpt from Philip’s essay in Bartram’s Living Legacy: Travels and the Nature of the South.
“There is no river scene in the Piedmont of northeast Georgia more stunning than Anthony Shoals on the Broad River. Perhaps there used to be. Perhaps the many great shoals on the Savannah River were just as glorious before they fell silent beneath the waters of the Thurmond, Russell, and Hartwell reservoirs, but I’m not quite old enough to have known any of them. Only the rapids above Augusta, my hometown, still show the beauty of the Savannah before it leaves the Piedmont. But the wildness of the river there is diminished by the new mansions looking down from the bluffs and the dams parceling out the flow from upstream. I think that’s why I love Anthony Shoals so much. This final stretch of the Broad, as it runs through the Broad River Wildlife Management Area, is the only place in the upper Savannah River watershed where the sound of a wild river still rises from such a wide swath of bedrock.”
Juras continues commenting on the setting for his splendid painting. “On the evening I captured this view, mountain laurel, snowbells, mock orange, Piedmont rhododendron, and fringe tree were in various states of bloom on the steep slopes next to the river. The main show, however, was being staged on the river itself, where one of the few populations of shoals spiderlilies left in the Savannah watershed was catching the light of the western horizon with glorious full blooms.”
Juras recounts how Anthony Shoals avoided being dammed by two proposed hydropower dams. “Though spared in the 20th century, the shoals have certainly seen human activity before then. If this view had been painted 150 years ago, the Broad River Manufacturing Company would appear on the opposite bank. Its millrace would be visible reaching upstream to the head of the shoals, and in that view much of the forest would have been cleared from the hills. However, if you imagine an earlier time when Native Americans inhabited this area, it’s likely the scene would appear much as it does today.”
The Broad River Manufacturing Company Juras mentions used cotton referred to as “Goshen cotton.” The cotton’s long gone and its gift to us today is some of the more interesting ruins from the nation’s early industrial settlements. Brick walls and towers rise from the forest floor.
I find the place fascinating. I plan to go there soon with my camera and laptop. I’ll find a shady spot with a command of the shoals and reflect on all that’s transpired here. I’ll imagine Native Americans gazing at the rare shoals lilies of spring. I’ll watch barges poled and dragged upstream with cargoes destined for merchants in the Piedmont. I’ll see whitewater rushing through the distant mill’s millrace delivering the most natural power imaginable. I’ll watch kids playing as their parents prepare a tremendous picnic. I’ll see an artist painting his beautiful landscapes. Best of all, I’ll take solace in rediscovering a place from childhood, one I thought lay beneath lake waters like so many other long-lost treasures do.
The shoals, by the way, take their name from relatives on my Mom’s side of the family. That’s where my daughter, Becky, gets hers middle name, “Rebecca Anthony Korom.”
And now I discover that people actually pursue rock climbing there on a small group of challenging boulders, several of which have “climbable problems.”
I can’t wait to go there. I’ll spend an afternoon at a place where my Mom spent some of her more memorable childhood days, a jewel of a place that still sparkles.