Brian Cohen- Backwater Historian
Story: Cindy Reid | Photos: Michelle Holloway
Owner of Backwater Expeditions and on the Board of Directors for Effingham County Historical Society.
Brian Cohen has called Georgia home for the better part of thirty years. Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, he says his family moved to Georgia when he was ten to help his grandfather. Brian remembers an adventurous childhood. He says, “It was all about kinfolk and camping! My parents raised us with tents in the car and we would go exploring and see what we could get into.” He went to high school in Warner Robins, Georgia and finished in Pensacola FL, then to work. Graduating at 17 and came back to Georgia, working with M&S Supply and then Apex Supply in the wholesale HVAC business.
True to his roots, he says “I kept a tent in my car. I am a workaholic so on any given road trip I will get out, take a walk and see what’s out there. I love exploring the outdoors.”
In 1986 Brian started a long career with Bell South, where he worked on major projects throughout Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. In charge of major projects, he coordinated with the White House communications team and was involved with building E911 call centers. After 22 years’ service with Bell South it was bought out by AT&T his office and position were eliminated. In 2008 he became a consultant in the Fire and the Emergency services field, working to increase services, disaster medigation and lower cost of homeowner’s insurance while traveling the country. In addition, Brian was a volunteer fireman for 28 years. In 1997 he started “Southern Style Outfitter” in Oconee Georgia with partner Larry Moore, who passed away last year. That company became “Backwater Expeditions”, in 2000 and based out of Effingham county.
Ebenezer Creek/Ebenezer Swamp
Backwater Expeditions conducts personally guided tours of one of the most pristine Tupelo and Cypress swamps, Ebenezer Creek, a tributary to the Savannah River with great historic and ecological significance. Brian says, “Ebenezer Creek has been deemed a Georgia Wild and Scenic River, one of only four in the state and Ebenezer Creek Swamp is a National Natural Landmark because it is the best remaining cypress-gum swamp forest in the Savannah River basin. “
Their tours are conducted on the water via kayaks and canoes. Kayaking experience is not necessary. Brian says “For people new to kayaking we make it as simple and easy to learn how to operate your craft. There is no current, so it gives you the ability to perfect your skills. We like kayaks because they are low impact ecologically and they are also a low impact workout. It can be a total workout but not difficult.”
“We believe in the small group tours, because your vacation is your time off and you should be able to pick your own group and time. We try to make it affordable for the whole family to explore together.” (Tours are suitable for age 10 and up and it does depend on the child.)
“We are on a natural birding trial and see many visiting birds rest in the moss draped trees. “says Brian. The creek is home to Blue Herons, Cranes, Prothonotary Warblers, Swallow-tailed Kites, and Painted Buntings. It’s common to see corn snakes, King snakes, turtles, bass, crappies, catfish and of course alligators. He says, “The gators are usually sunning themselves on the banks and blend in pretty well. They are pretty timid and when they see us, they generally disappear.”
The tours incorporate a lot of knowledge. Brian says, “It is very important to give the right information. Many of the visitors have an interest in the history of the area and want to see it for themselves.” The creek was the scene of what has been called the “Betrayal of Ebenezer” , which occurred during Sherman’s March to the Sea, a tragedy that took place at the end of the Civil War (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebenezer_Creek).
Customers come from around the globe and surrounding towns as well as Hilton Head, Savannah, Augusta and Columbia. Brain says he enjoys interacting with people and “showing off what we have here. I really enjoy it. I have met people from all over the world. We have taken out people from Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, China, Australia, even a tour guide from Rome who will reciprocate and show me Rome if I ever get over there. You never know who you will run across in this business.”
Business is brisk and Brian’s plans include trying to find property on the creek to create a facility for cabins, tents and RV hook ups. He is also trying to start driving tours, which he says would be particularly good for people who may not be interested in a tour on the water.
Backwater Expeditions is the oldest and largest tour operator in Effingham County and provides personal guided tours of Ebenezer Creek, which has been deemed a Georgia Wild and Scenic River and is one of the most pristine and historic backwater black-water waterways the south has to offer.
Brian Cohen – Backwater Expeditions
Video Credit: Michelle Holloway Photography
Historic Effingham Society
Brian Cohen says he has always been fascinated by history. He says, “We grew up going to museums and battlefields. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we could discover history. I love my Mom for loving history and teaching us that it wasn’t necessarily about dates, it was about the experience of people.”
Having spent his life in the American South, Brian says “I like to explore roots of an area as I put down my own roots. There has been a lot of interesting events everywhere I have lived. People are always looking at the Old West, but I like learning about the Old East! Our country started here! “
Brian serves on the Board of Directors of the Historic Effingham Society and says they are a “wonderful group of people, and we are always looking for ways to get the community and especially our young people involved. By promoting the history of our area, we can increase tourism, which can lift business, which is a good reason to promote tourism. We have a lot to share, so take advantage and visit us “
Historic Effingham Society
The Historic Effingham Society’s Old Jail Museum and Living History Site was built in 1934 and originally served as two-story brick jail house. Currently it houses a library and research center and the office for the Historic Society. There are over 200 genealogy books and over sixty local family genealogies as well as microfilm of census records and the local newspaper.
The museum has many exhibits including native American artifacts, a turpentine tool display, military hardware from the American Revolution and items from the Union and Confederate Armies. There is also an outstanding weaponry display. Upstairs is a General Store and there is a cabin display composed of materials removed from the Reuben Morgan homestead, which was begun in 1788.
The jail cells are a display of their own and the 1940’s kitchen is in the actual kitchen of the jail, and has an ice box, cast iron wood stove and a pie safe as well as the radio and many everyday items from that period. Come and see it for yourself at the Effingham Festival at the Living History Site on April 18, 2020.
Old Jail Museum and Living History Site
1002 Pine St., Springfield GA 31329
Photo Gallery Credit: Michelle Holloway Photography
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