There's a lot to love about living in the South Carolina Lowcountry, but one of the most interesting for me is the history, both natural and human, that abounds anywhere you bother to look. Yesterday was a great example. I went out with a friend for a 3 hour bike ride, but blew out a tire a bit more than halfway and didn't have what I needed to fix it, so we had to wait for my wife to come pick us up. I had my blowout on the Harriet Tubman Bridge that crosses the Combahee River in Beaufort County. Instead of waiting on the bridge, we headed over to the boat landing beside the bridge and down to the dock to hope for a breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay. That mostly worked and as I was sitting on the dock, I realized where I was: just across the Combahee from a former rice plantation. I've been interested in the rice plantations in Beaufort County for a bit, but even more lately since I've spent a great deal of time driving between Beaufort and Charleston on Highway 17, passing by the remnants of the old Newberry Plantation rice fields. The plantation is currently owned by the Nemours Wildlife Foundation, but it's been years since rice was grown in this land. One of the first things you notice when you spend a little time in nature is there are no straight lines. If you come across straight lines, you're looking at the influence of humans. Take a look at the Google Maps satellite imagery of the area: View Larger Map Pretty impressive, huh? Can you see the different channels and irrigation features? Unfortunately, much of the interesting details is only visible from the ground, and I'm sorry to report that Google Streetview cars haven't made it across the dikes of the old fields. Maybe I need to make a trip out there to check it out... The SC Lowcountry was uniquely situated to produce rice. The land was naturally flat, meaning it didn't require as much work to bring it into cultivation for rice. The abundance of slave labor made it profitable and rice, specifically Carolina Gold rice, grew as a cash crop and soon displaced indigo as one of the main economic drivers of the lowcountry economy. Rice was originally grown with little specific planning; plantation owners planted the rice in wet ground and did the best they could. As the market for rice increased, planters started to experiment with reclaiming swamp land, as seen in the above picture and map, and improved the yield of the land. In the pictures above, you can see the embankments used to delineate the fields. As the market continued to grow, larger operations were created and these required larger sources of water, thus the large canals visible in the pictures above. Most rice production was curtailed during the Civil War and following the cessation of hostilities, some planters restarted their operations using paid labor. However, the market had changed greatly and the rice industry simply didn't take off after the war. Planters that remained turned to mechanical tools to replace the slaves, but even that didn't save the industry. Carolina Gold rice, the main variety grown in the lowcountry, all but disappeared after the early years of the 20th Century, but returned as the slow food movement started to gain traction in the past decades. Rice is now grown in a number of locations in South Carolina, but not at the industrial levels seen before the war. Charleston County has a great resource page about the history and technology of rice. The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation supports growing and restoring the rice in South Carolina.