North Carolina Canals - Cape Fear Navigation - Upper

Current County

Year Started

Year Completed


Late 1790s





85 miles

40 feet

9 feet

1865 NC Map Showing Cape Fear Navigation

The Cape Fear Navigation Company was chartered in 1796 to improve navigation on the upper Cape Fear River and its tributary, the Deep River, from LaGrange (Carbonton) to Fayetteville, a distance of eighty-five (85) miles. Work began on fifteen (15) timber locks (65' x 10') and dams, and a long canal with a tow path into Fayetteville, but the project was abandoned in the 1820s due to lack of funding.

Construction restarted in 1843 on a slackwater steamboat navigation using the same route as the earlier project, with wooden locks (115' x 13') - twenty lift locks and three guard locks, nineteen (19) dams, and three short canals. The locks were of timber cribwork, bolted to insitu rocks and filled with stone. Only one of the locks, at Lockville, was of stone, but it no longer exists. The other locks are now two piles of stone rubble, the cribs having rotted away.

At least one steamer is known to have passed over the entire route after its completion in 1855. In 1865, much of the project was washed away in a great flood called "Sherman's Fresh."

In 1870, iron was discovered in Buckhorn and the 1-1/2 mile canal there was extended another 1/2 mile to provide power for a blast furnace air compressor. Another canal above Buckhorn was presumed to be constructed about this time for similar purposes, making a string of canals about six (6) miles long.

Named portions of this large project include - Haughton's Lock and Dam, Lockville Canal, Buckhorn Dam, and Norrington's Lock and Dam. Others may have had names, but these are the only ones known at present.

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved