Sunday, August 19, 2007

C & O Canal

Construction on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal began in 1828 in Washington, D.C., although the idea for a navigable waterway from the Potomac to the Ohio Valley was envisioned as early as George Washington's time. The 184.5 mile canal was completed in 1850, ending in Cumberland, Maryland, and for nearly 75 years it was a major route for moving coal (850,000 tons in 1871). Flooding was always an issue, however, and since the railroad had moved in by then, in 1924 the canal ceased operations following another flood.

In the 1930's, restoring the lower section of the canal was a Civilian Conservation Corps project, in anticipation of the canal becoming a national park. The canal itself only survived because of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, however. In the 1950's the plan was to turn the canal into a parkway to allow motor access through the park, and Justice Douglas, an avid hiker, wrote a letter to the Washington Post
arguing for preserving the canal:

One who walked the canal its full length could plead that cause with the eloquence of a John Muir. He would get to know muskrats, badgers, and fox; he would hear the roar of wind in thickets; He would see strange islands and promontories through the fantasy of fog; he would discover the glory there is in the first flower of spring, the glory there is even in a blade of grass; the whistling wings of ducks would make silence have new values for him. Certain it is that he could never acquire that understanding going 60, or even 25, miles an hour.
He even organized a hike of editors and conservationists, sucessfully swaying public opinion away from the road and back to nature. Time reported on April 5, 1954:

By the time he was ten miles from the city, Douglas had 50 followers, and was being paralleled in the canal by canoeists bearing such signs as SAVE THE CANAL and LESS CARS-MORE CANOES !

The long walk ended at an old canal lock a quarter of a mile farther along. A National Park Service sightseeing barge, drawn by two mules, awaited the hikers. They climbed aboard to ride the last five miles to Georgetown. Their triumphal entry into the city, however, was just beginning. As the barge sloshed down the canal, hundreds of men, women & children hustled along the banks exchanging greetings with the expedition. Other well-wishers called greetings from overhead bridges. The escorting fleet of canoes grew. Automobiles jammed up along a parallel roadway.

The 12,000 acres, including the canal and towpath rather than a paved road, became a national park in 1971.

Here are a few pictures from the section of towpath closest to where I live:

This may be a reproduction, or perhaps a replacement, lockhouse. On the other side of the canal you can see the stone foundation of another building.

The canal at Lock 26.

The store at White's Ferry records the high water marks after the Potomac River floods. (This is the second story of the building.)

The Monocacy Aqueduct


Ted said...

Nic, I love these kinds of history posts! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Nic, the lockhouse that you wonder about is truly the real thing - no reproduction! Reconnect with your Canal Heritage!

Kevin Brandt