Lake Murray: Harnessing Power

December 3, 2010
By Rachel Haynie  |  Photography by John Wrightenberry

The Lorick House original dining area still welcomes many visitors.

Wreaths of native greenery on doors and above mantels throughout the historic Lorick Plantation House for the December 11-12 holiday open house symbolize more than the reason for the season. Those circles also represent shoreline stretching five hundred miles around a 50,000 acre reservoir circumnavigating communities, recreation, history and other culture. Although the lake is far from circular, a circle aptly suggests the close connections shared by lakels, an insiders’ nickname for residents.

The wide front porch is ready for peaceful relaxation with its comfortable rocking chairs.

The impoundment known as Lake Murray has inspired a way of life for South Carolinians residing in four counties – Lexington, Newberry, Richland and Saluda – whose primary commonality is access to waters dammed in 1930. Spillage over what then was the world’s largest earthen dam generated power for the region.

Today, the centerpiece for the lake-side communities is Capital City/Lake Murray Country, one of the state’s eleven regional tourism districts. The former Lorick Plantation House was built in 1840 by George Lorick in the midst of his 7,650-acre tract that included farm land and outbuildings.

During the Civil War, a column of Sherman’s cavalry left the eleven-room home on fire after using one of the wide fireplaces, according to one legend, to roast a pig or lamb. A competing legend has the Yankee troops dragging live logs across the wide-planked floors, waiting to “ride off laughing” until they were sure a good fire had started. Once the military detail was a blue blur, family members hurried back into their home and extinguished the fire. In time new wood replaced the damaged; evidence of the repair can still be seen today.

In 1995 the two-story Lorick House, its lines retained over a century and a half of adaptations for family life, was moved from its original location to 2184 North Lake Drive on Highway 6, within view of the lake. From rocking chairs on the wide front porch at the Lake Murray Visitors Center, a resting visitor can see – through the fluttering foliage across the road – light reflecting off the waters, not much more than a stone’s throw away.

The visitors center is located near the intersection of Hwy. 6 and Lake Murray Boulevard.

That Lake Murray Country is centered in an historic house is fitting. Lake residents typically have revered history. A decade ago when South Carolina Electric and Gas lowered lake levels for maintenance and later for dam repairs in compliance with federal earthquake mandates, residents made the mucky low tidal flats their proving grounds. Searches turned up myriad artifacts verifying the enduring timeline that traces the area’s history.

Long before Kimpson’s and Wyse’s ferries conveyed shoreline residents across watery expanses, the river’s currents helped propel Cherokees in canoes through waters they called Saluda. In 1957 the Columbia Sailing Club formed on the lake’s eastern shores, its founding members delighted to harness the wind in their mainsails and spinnakers. A dozen years later, Lake Murray Sailing Club uncleated more boats from their landing and joined in the friendly competition.

The beautiful stairway graces the foyer.

Boats even figured into the presence of planes over the lake, especially during WWII. Although flight crews did not become Doolittle Raiders until recruited by James Doolittle for a very secret retaliatory mission, future raiders began training at Columbia Army Air Base. Here for a short while before need for tighter security moved them to Florida for additional training, some of them flew training missions over Lake Murray.

The aviators who would become the Doolittle Raiders had taken off from CAAB for Eglin Air Base more than a year before a B-25 ditched into the lake and, more than six decades later, made history. Lowered water levels last decade contributed a little to the successful recovery five years ago of that now-historic WWII B-25 that had taken off for a routine training mission from CAAB (located then where Columbia Metropolitan Airport is today). When one of the Mitchell bomber’s twin engines cut out, the crew ditched into the lake and was picked up by lake resident Sewall Oliver, captaining a new CrisCraft outboard motor boat.

The gracious entry hall for The Lorick House is decorated each year during the holidays for the annual open house.

Because the plane went down near the center of the lake, the depth was too great for the U.S. Department of Defense to attempt a rescue during war years. But more than six decades later, because of a protracted effort led by Dr. Robert Seigler, who water-skied on the lake as a teen, the war bird surfaced. The Lake Murray B-25 Rescue Project, with help from local to international experts, cradled and conveyed the plane to dry land and, when it was safe to travel, sent the plane on its way to the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Alabama, where it is on exhibition today.

During that sweeping rescue effort, boats usually reserved for recreation helped ferry authorized crew to and from that B-25 recovery site. It had been only natural that the lake had become a boating mecca. Sailboats, with year round regattas, share the waterways with fishing and houseboats, large and small. Both The Southern Patriot and The Spirit of Lake Murray take boatloads of adventure lovers out for lake cruises, and jet skiers catch the bigger boats’ wakes.

Holiday open house decorations are provided in part by local garden clubs, this setting by the Quail Valley Garden Club.

Dreher Island State Park was leased from SCE&G in 1970 to afford the public access to the recreational benefits abounding in and around the lake. Wildlife and fish populations and patterns have evolved over the centuries. Today a world championship bass tournament in mid-August brings to the midlands big dollars, big media, and professional anglers casting for the famous stripers. About the same time of year, thousands of Purple Martins make the islands studding Lake Murray their rookeries before the swallows fly South for winter.

For those who have chosen Lake Murray for its relaxed lifestyle, the benefits span the calendar. For others the lake is a popular getaway destination for recreation and adventure.

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