- Historic Sites
The Great Dismal Swamp
George Washington tried to drain it. Harriet Beecher Stowe was inspired by the escaped slaves hiding in it. Loggers worked it for centuries. Yet it remains one of the least-known unspoiled spots in the East.
April/May 2002 | Volume 53, Issue 2
William Nelson Camp’s company worked the Great Dismal’s timber until it wasn’t worth the effort. On Washington’s birthday in 1973, Union Camp donated its holdings to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with help from the Nature Conservancy. Now a National Wildlife Refuge, the Great Dismal attracts more than 50,000 visitors each year. Its venerable canal is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. After surviving 210 years of human exploitation, the ancient wetland is returning to the nature that never really left it. Its wild beauty endures, and when Bland Simpson writes about Lake Drummond in springtime, he could be describing what Washington first saw: “The Lake is pink-rimmed ... all the maple in the marge of the morass puts forth like cherry and the cypress that still stand in the shallows are the lightest and most feathery green. Fetterbush hangs abloom at the mouth of Jericho Ditch, bullfrogs ga-lunk there where the Lake just slides off into the Swamp and thrushes sing their looping, liquid songs.”