Dismal Swamp Canal And Visitors Center (South Mills, NC)


Dismal Swamp Canal at the Dismal Swamp State Park

Dismal Swamp Canal Visitors Center
2294 Highway 17 North, South Mills, North Carolina 27976

In August I stopped by the Dismal Swamp Canal Visitors Center – unfortunately I arrived late in the afternoon, a few minutes after the Visitors Center had closed. However the Bridge Tender let me walk around for a bit in the light of late afternnoon – and next time I’ll plan better, hopefully have my kayak or bike with me – and stay for awhile. It’s a beautiful spot, just a stone’s throw off of Highway 17 – a fascinating place with a rich and complicated history.

The Visitors Center is just three miles south of the Virginia-North Carolina border, and the Dismal Swamp Canal is located on the eastern edge of the swamp – the Dismal Swamp State Park contains 18 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. There’s great kayaking and canoeing too. The Canal is part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

It is the oldest continually operating man-made canal in the United States,and it opened in 1805 for navigation – here is a chronology and description of the history of the Dismal Swamp. From the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center website, regarding the Dismal Swamp’s role in the Underground Railroad:

The Great Dismal Swamp, located in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina has long been recognized as a mysterious place and a place in which people have easily lost their way. During slavery, many African Americans used the Great Dismal Swamp as a means to find their freedom. Some bondsmen, who were permitted to hire themselves out, earned enough money, through boat work on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal or through cedar and cypress shingle production to purchase their freedom. Others found refuge deep within the swamp, living off the land, and what they could steal. These “outlyers” established maroon communities on the higher points of the swamp. Still, for others, the swamp was a “stopping point” to get to Norfolk or Portsmouth, VA, or to the Albemarle Sound and Elizabeth City, NC where they could secure passage on a ship traveling north. During the Civil War US Colored Troops passed through the swamp in order to liberate enslaved people. Despite the method or living conditions, the swamp provided the means of freedom which so many sought.

video of the March 2008 opening of the Dismal Swamp Visitors Center