Columbia has a lot to offer: the only national park in the state is just thirty minutes away, the downtown area has lots of shopping, restaurants, and a vibrant night life, and the rivers provide a few ways to get out on the water. But one of the more interesting things to explore in Columbia is the original waterworks building at Riverfront Park. This historic building is freely open for exploration and offers some beautiful views of the Congaree River and Columbia Canal right in the heart of downtown.
The access to Riverfront park is kinda hidden behind several buildings on Gist Street. It’s a short walk from the parking area along a concrete path to a footbridge crossing the Columbia Canal. The Three Rivers Greenway spans left and right from here, traveling for miles along the canal. You can hike, bike, or jog this greenway trail all the way to one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon in Columbia at Riverside Park.
But staying local you don’t have to do any long treks to get to some really cool places. Just as soon as you cross the footbridge there is a large field on the right, perfect for lazy afternoons by the water or bird watching in the mornings. The trail to the left crosses over a spillway dam used for controlling the water level of the canal. It’s neat to be able to walk across the dam, especially when they have some of the flood gates open.
But the real treat is the historic waterworks building. Built in 1821 this building used a steam engine to power a pump to bring water into the city. Two pumphouses remain on the island between the canal and Congaree River with one of them usually open to the public. Walk through the pumphouse to see some of the original machinery, pumps, and controls.
At the far end (south end) of the pumphouse a doorway leads to an overlook behind the building with a good view of the flood control dam. At the very south end of the building a large doorway leads to a brick patio area overlooking the dam and river. The north end is a bit of a plaza with several large trees, brick steps, and benches built into an area that is a wonderful place to spend a cool summer day.