The Tenn-Tom Waterway: Aqua Yacht Harbor to Columbus and on to Demopolis

Second time around, our departure from Aqua Yacht Harbor was uneventful, and we managed the 54 miles to our next stop at Midway Marina, without mishap. We slipped quietly away from the dock early in the morning, and were off down the Divide Cut, the first section of the Tenn-Tom. This is a 25-mile, man-made, long straight section of the waterway which links Pickwick Lake and Bay Springs Lake.

The Divide Cut

Bay Springs Lake

 

Below Bay Springs Lake, a series of 10 Locks takes the Waterway down to Demopolis.

 

The first six locks, which are fairly close together, comprise the Canal Section.

The first Lock is the deepest. Jamie Whitten Lock, named for a local politician, is 84’ deep.

Jamie Whitten Lock

Jamie Whitten Lock

Midway Marina is halfway down the first flight of six locks.

Tree stumps at Midway Marina

Assistant dockhand at Midway Marina

As we left Midway, it was a beautiful day with the Fall tints lighting up the river banks.

Fulton Lock

Coming up to Glover Wilkins Lock

After Amory Lock you come into the River section. Here, the waterway broadens out and the remaining four locks are more spaced out. There are lots of oxbow lakes where the waterway has been cut through, and in some of them you can anchor. We stopped at Acker Lake and the next day went on to Columbus.

near Acker Lake

Fall colours near Acker Lake

Coming up to Aberdeen Lock

We intended to have two nights at Columbus, and leave early the next morning with a group of Loopers to get through the nearby John Stennis Lock all together. But on the second night we ventured into the town centre to eat at Huck’s Place, generally acknowledged to be the best restaurant in town. It was certainly very good. The town centre looked interesting, and on the way back to the marina, our Uber driver recommended a visit to Waverley Mansion, an antebellum house a few miles out of town.

So we decided to stay another day.

The journey to Waverley wasn’t without incident. What our Uber driver hadn’t told us was that the mansion was some distance away along narrow, country roads. It should have taken about 20 minutes, and after driving for half an hour through forest interspersed with the odd tract of farmland, we suspected that the satnav might have led us astray. Google maps confirmed this, but even when we were on the correct narrow country road, we still couldn’t see anything resembling an antebellum mansion.

Things were getting a bit tense. We had to get the car back to the marina by 12, and if we didn’t find the house soon, we wouldn’t have enough time to see it properly. It wasn’t quite a disaster in the making, but there was certainly the potential for a minor domestic, with unspoken blame being cast equally on the one who had programmed the satnav, versus the one who had insisted on the expedition in the first place. Eventually, we came to a country park and just before a dead end at the water’s edge, I caught a glimpse of white down a rough track through the trees. There had been no sign indicating the house’s location.

A young man was sweeping leaves in front of an imposing house. It turned out he was the guide, and we had just enough time for a tour.

Waverley Mansion

Jimmy told us he was a history graduate and he was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the house and its history. He had worked for the owners for 10 years.

The house was unusual. Two wings led off a central octagonal entrance hall, topped with a cupola. The upper storeys had balconies overlooking the hall.

Waverley was built in 1852 by Colonel Hampton Young. He named it because Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels were his favourite books. He and his large family came from Philadelphia MS and lived in a log cabin nearby, while the house was being built. In the Civil War, the Union armies didn’t get as far as Columbus, so there are a number of antebellum houses in the area which escaped destruction.

After Billy Hampton Young, the last surviving son, died in 1913, the house was effectively abandoned, the heirs being unable to agree about what to do with it. It became derelict and a favourite haunt of high school and college students.

In 1962 it was bought by Mr and Mrs Robert Snow. They did much of the restoration and repair work themselves and furnished the house with beautiful antiques.

 

Central Hall, Waverley Mansion

Library

Dining room, with a portrait of Mrs Snow above the fireplace

Bedroom,  bedspread knitted by Mrs Snow

Drawing room

Mr Snow died aged 91 in 2017 and the house and contents are now for sale. It is registered as an historic building and the hope is that an organisation will buy it and preserve it for future generations.

Front driveway and garden

In the afternoon we went into the town. It was a bit disappointing. It wasn’t as lively as it had been the night before, and sadly, a number of businesses seemed to be closed down. We did have a look in the Arts Centre though, where an impressive photography exhibition was being staged. We wandered round the tree lined streets looking at the lovely old houses.

House on 3rd Avenue

3rd St S

On 3rd St, as we walked past, a lady opened her front door and called to us. Apparently it is obvious that we aren’t Americans, and she wanted to know where we were from. It turned out that she was a British exile, having moved to Columbus from Birkenhead in 1979. We had a long chat on her doorstep. She hadn’t been back to the U.K. for a few years and she said talking to us had made her day.

3rd St S

Tennessee Williams’ childhood home

Scarecrow on 5th St – a local custom

Main St

5th St

Columbus Marina at dusk

We left Columbus the next day. We knew that the weather forecast for the next few days was miserable, but we needed to get going. There were only two locks to go through, and it wasn’t raining very hard at that point, so we didn’t get too wet. But it was a pity that we only saw this beautiful stretch of river in cloud and rain.

We anchored at Windham Landing, and the following day at Sumpter Recreation Area.

Tom Bevill Lock, with an egret looking for something to eat

Leaving Windham Landing

Mile 272

There are some quite sharp bends on the River Section, and a couple of times large tows took us a bit by surprise.

Crimson White appearing round a bend

Sumpter Anchorage

There was another thunderstorm in the night and we were woken by brilliant flashes of lightning, claps of thunder and heavy, lashing rain. The last stretch to Demopolis was over 50 miles and as it’s now dark by 5.30 (November seems nearly as miserable in Alabama as it is in England) we got an early start and were away by 6.45. But it was bad timing.

Howell Heflin Lock was 3 miles away. Ian hailed them when we got within a couple of miles, only to find that a tow was just about to lock down in front of us. This meant waiting, ie hovering about in the channel, while the lock emptied and then filled up again, so we lost about 40 minutes.

At Epes and at Mile 234, 18 miles from Demopolis, we passed spectacular white cliffs.

The geology of Alabama is complex and the white rocks along the Tenn-Tom are fossiliferous, clayey, sandy glauconitic limestones laid down around the  Eocene Period around 50 million years ago, in warm, shallow seas. Thanks to my friend Elizabeth Capewell for this information.

By the time we got to Kingfisher Bay Marina at Demopolis, it was raining hard again and we were grateful to Anna-Marie, the dockmaster, for finding a covered slip for us. Demopolis is the last marina before Mobile, more than 200 miles away, so we planned to have a few days stocking up and having a bit of a rest before tackling the last, difficult stage of this year’s trip. What we didn’t realise at that point was that once more, Fate and the weather had decided to overturn our plans and that Carina would be staying in Demopolis for rather longer than we had anticipated.

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “The Tenn-Tom Waterway: Aqua Yacht Harbor to Columbus and on to Demopolis

  1. Another fascinating account. I loved the antibellum house. So gracious as the Americans say. The atmosphere in the car is, I think, not unknown in many families.
    And good to meet the couple from England. But why didn’t they invite you in for a cuppa? Perhaps they can’t import Yorkshire tea in Alabama. Did she still keep her Birkenhead accent?

    • No, the Birkenhead accent distinctly overlaid with Mississippi! I think lots of people’s accents change easily & adapt to that of where they’re living. When we lived in HK, my HK friends used to say that when we came back to HK from home leave my Stockport accent was much more noticeable – I was completely unaware that I had any accent at all!

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