Lydias Assistant April 23rd, 2008
The body of water now known as ‘J. Strom Thurmond Lake’ has a convoluted tale surrounding it’s name that is almost stranger than fiction. Would you believe that of the 50-odd years it has been in existence, it’s been known by multiple names?
The Era BTL (Before the Lake)
The area destined to contain the South’s largest inland body of water was known for almost 150 years as ‘Clarks Hill’. The site was named after Elijah Clark- a real life Revolutionary War hero who forced the British occupation troops out of Augusta GA. (Augusta was the capital of Georgia in those days). There is an area in South Carolina called Clarks Hill, in McCormick County, just northeast of Augusta, that is named after him.
Since Elijah is from North Carolina, it’s believed that either the area was named in honor of him after his Revolutionary War exploits, or possibly he used the area as a staging area for his troops during his attacks on Augusta. It’s not really known for sure. What is known is that well before the lake was built, for over a century in fact, the area was known as Clarks Hill.
Elijah is now buried at Elijah Clark State Park in Lincolton GA, alongside the lake initially named after him. He died in Augusta in 1799.
We are going to build it, but we dunno what to call it yet…
So in 1944, when the US government first embarked on a mission to dam the Savannah River and form a future lake, the intent was to call it Clarks Hill Lake. But a typographical error in the initial Congressional Authorization dropped the ‘s.’ Through this simple bureaucratic foul up, the project started out as Clark Hill Lake, and so it remained until later in the project- when additional funding and mission statements corrected the error and renamed it Clarks Hill Lake again.
This was merely the first shot fired in many battles to come over this lake’s name. The body of water, already on it’s second name before it was even built, remained Clarks Hill Lake from its initial filling in 1954 until the late 1980’s.
Political Grandstanding ignites a watery firestorm…
Then in 1988, South Carolina legislator Butler Derrick introduced a bill in the Federal Congress to rename the lake ‘J. Strom Thurmond Lake’ after the powerful and popular Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. The bill passed and was signed into law, and overnight Georgians found that the lake had been renamed after a SC politician. The new name was now J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake at Clarks Hill.
This sparked quite a bit of fury on the Georgia side on the lake, as you might imagine.
In addition, because Strom was still alive and serving in the Senate at the time, there was some righteous indignation from throughout the region. Many people thought it was unseemly to name a public place -especially a 150,000 acre public place!- after a living politician. While maps at the local bait shops were being updated, everyone argued over what was going to happen next.
In response, there were several attempts by Georgia legislators in Capitol Hill to push Federal legislation to change the name of the lake back to Clarks Hill. They all proved unsuccessful, despite popular support on both sides of the lake. As a last measure, in 1989 the Georgia State legislature passed a resolution naming the lake ‘Clarks Hill.’ They refused to recognize the federal name, and thus all maps issued by the State of Georgia show that to be the name of the lake.
So what the #@!& is it called now?
The result: if you are standing (or floating) in Georgia, the name of the lake is Clarks Hill. Anywhere else the name is J. Strom Thurmond Lake at Clarks Hill, or put more simply, Thurmond Lake. To add even more confusion, you will occasionally find that several Federal Agencies, such as the US Geological Survey, refer to the body of water as the J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir. So take your pick what you want to call it – everyone else has!
To this day, the whole controversy still has some simmering hard feelings. The most commonly used name today is still Clarks Hill, even in South Carolina, although if you say Thurmond Lake most people will know what you are talking about.
- This is the first in a series of articles we’ve been developing for you with the working title, “Everything you wanted to know about Clarks Hill Lake but were afraid to ask.” The original article was so long, so in-depth, and so massive in scope we decided to break it apart in manageable chunks. We hope you enjoy them!