Interview with President + CEO of the Lake Murray Chamber of Commerce + lake enthusiast, Richard Peterson
Most local residents know a little about Lake Murray – that it was created in 1930 to supply electrical power to the area by damming the Saluda River, that it’s beloved by the Purple Martins who nest there, and that it’s a prime spot for 4th of July fireworks! Digging deeper, you’ll find many interesting facts about the lake, such as the story of Bomb Island, the landscape UNDER Lake Murray, and the history of the Doolittle Raiders. To get even more in-depth information, we spoke with Richard Peterson, the President & CEO of the Lake Murray Chamber of Commerce.
Peterson has ties in Columbia going way back to the early days of the Midlands. His father arrived here on a top secret military mission, acting as a coordinator for the (former) Columbia Army Air Base, where the Army’s B-25 airmen would train for missions. His mother attended USC and danced at the Big Apple Night Club (home of “The Big Apple Swing” dance craze). His Uncle, J.C. Townsend, was a famous B-25 test pilot, his aunt one of the Tapps (of the Tapp’s building on the corner of Main and Blanding streets and Tapp Pointe Subdivision in Chapin), and his maternal grandfather was a judge in Columbia. Needless to say, his interest in and knowledge about the area is far-reaching, and full of surprises.
Lake Murray’s history starts with the Saluda River, which feeds into the lake. Native settlers of the area, Saluda Indians and Cherokee people, farmed along the river, calling it the “river of corn.” In the 1700s, trading posts were created, canal systems dug and settlements made. Europeans began to establish themselves along the Saluda. During the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee proposed an idea for a large dam or grist mill in the area, which would be realized years later, as the demand for electricity in the U.S. increased. William S. Murray became the dam project’s chief engineer in the 1920s. Lake Murray is named after him.
Richard Peterson can recite most of Lake Murray’s history without even checking his notes. He has shared the lake’s background and features with many, in his role as President and CEO of the Lake Murray Chamber of Commerce. The longtime lake resident also enjoys talking about his own history with the area. He recalls watching “wooden boats that were works of art” sailing on the lake.
He remembers what Bomb Island looked like in the 1980s, before going to the birds: “Bomb Island wasn’t a Purple Martin sanctuary, it was a party island!”
Peterson enjoys everything about the “big water”, Lake Murray’s more popular spots, where in addition to sail clubs and regattas, fishing tournaments and poker runs, events and new businesses abound. He’s an even more valuable source of information for Lake Murray’s hidden gems, as he can tell you the most scenic route around the lake, the best hamburger on the lake, where you’ll get “a whole different perspective on the lake”, his favorite marinas, and fishing in the Little Saluda vs. “big water” fishing. “That’s the exciting part of Lake Murray – the lesser known areas”, he said. He recommends The Lake Murray Visitor Center for any information on the lake, and, for residents of Columbia who don’t have a house on or near the lake and are eager to experience more of its offerings, Richard says the Lake Murray Resort and Marina is a great way to get to know the region, with cottages to stay in and equipment rentals.
Peterson also has some advice if you’re thinking about moving lakeside. He notes that there are several different types of lifestyles on the lake. What type of atmosphere you enjoy could determine the area of the lake you want to live in. He advises, “If someone is moving to Lake Murray, one of the best things they could do is book a cruise on the Spirit of Lake Murray, watch the shoreline to see a wide array of houses in a limited time.” He also recommends renting a home from Lake Murray Sales And Property Management, then driving around the lake, checking out all of its parts to see what best suits you.
Peterson lives in an area on the lake where things are unspoiled by too much development and wildlife abounds. He is “very proud of the history of the area”, and the fact that it is “such a unique place…over 600 miles of shoreline, and each county that touches the lake (Lexington, Richland, Newberry and Saluda) really has its own personality.”