Southern Water, Southern Power: How the Politics of Cheap Energy and Water Scarcity Shaped a Region

By Christopher J. Manganiello | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Lowell of the South

There are no lakes in any part of the region under
consideration except a few near the coast, a position
which renders them of no value as regards water-power
.

—George F. Swain (1885)

After months of planning and recovery from an industrial accident, John Muir began his southern walking tour in late 1867 at an unusual and critical turning point in the region’s history. Well in advance of his betterknown and published experiences of his first summer in California’s Sierra Mountains, Muir passed through Georgia in the wake of the American Civil War on his “thousand mile walk” from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico. After arriving in Gainesville, Georgia, Muir spent September 24 “sailing on the Chattahoochee” with an old friend from Indiana. While cruising the “first truly southern stream” he had ever encountered, the two men set about “feasting” on ripe wild grapes that dropped into the unencumbered upper Chattahoochee River. Muir and his host followed the apparently free-flowing river’s cue and currents and discovered masses of grapes floating effortlessly in slow churning “eddies along the bank.” Other enterprising men working with the river from boats and the shore easily collected the grapes from these pools where the river’s current slacked. Muir enjoyed some of the delicious grapes right out of the river, as well as the muscadine wine they produced. “Intoxicated with the beauty” of the river’s banks and intrigued by what the banks farther down the river might look like, Muir briefly contemplated traveling the Chattahoochee by boat to the gulf. However, he opted to forgo the water route in favor of overland travel to really see the southern landscape, and eventually, he reached Augusta by foot.1

In deciding to walk and record his observations, Muir contributed to a set of social and economic assumptions about the American South. John

-21-

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