John Bartram, the nation’s first renowned botanist, gives discussions of the area in his Diary of a Journey Through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida from July 1, 1765, to April 10, 1766. Lake Waccamaw is specifically mentioned in “A New Voyage to Georgia by a Young Gentleman” in 1737. The gentleman states, “I think it is the pleasantest place that ever I saw in my life.” But he was not the first to find this paradise.
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of civilization at Lake Waccamaw dating back thousands of years, in addition to artifacts from the Waccamaw-Siouan tribes. In 1797, the state deeded 170,120 acres of the Green Swamp to Stephen Williams, Benjamin Rowell and William Collins for little more than $7,000. A portion of the land was drained for agricultural use, but in 1904 the property was purchased for timbering.
Lumber companies produced cypress shingles and shipped them by boat across Lake Waccamaw for transport by mule to the nearby train station. Logging and shingle transportation eventually became rail-based, and a line was laid along the west side of the lake. Remnants of the railway bridge crossing can still be seen today.
State government interest in the bay lakes emerged in the early 1800s when legislation blocked further private claims on land covered by lake waters. Later, the General Assembly declared that any lake of 500 acres or more in Bladen, Columbus or Cumberland counties shall remain the property of the state.
In October of 1964, the Board of Conservation and Development tried to obtain land on the lakeshore to establish a state park. But it wasn't until May of 1976 that a state park was formed on the lake when a 273-acre tract of land was purchased by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. Additional land purchases for the park in the mid-1980s, including acreage formerly belonging to the Federal Paper Company and Georgia-Pacific Corporation, helped bring the park to its present size of 1,732 acres.