Thursday, October 15, 2009

Along The C and O Canal

Location: Brunswick, MD

We are currently in a small municipal RV park, our rig nestled between a remnant of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and facing the Potomac River.

Built between 1828 and 1850, the C & O Canal was originally meant to bypass the unnavigable sections of the Potomac and link the Chesapeake Bay with the Ohio River. But by 1850 it became obvious that the new railroad, constructed next to the canal, would win the transportation race so the push to the Ohio River was halted. The completed portions of the canal did operate until 1924, primarily hauling coal.

The canal became a National Historic Park in 1971, and today the 184.5 mile towpath -- where the mules walked as they pulled the canal boats -- is used by hikers and bikers. To get to our campsite, we had to drive on part of the towpath -- on what may be the only section where vehicles are allowed. Here is a different section of the towpath today, with what remains of one of the locks:

A lot of history has happened in cities and villages along the towpath. Here are a few places along this stretch:

Brunswick, MD, where we are parked, is home to the Brunswick Railroad Museum. In addition to railway artifacts, it houses an HO Model Railroad that recreates the stretch from Brunswick's 5-mile rail yard to Union Station in Washington D.C. Here is the HO-scale town of Brunswick -- if you could drive towards the bottom of the photo (through the town and past the railways), then make a left towards the photo's bottom right corner, you would soon be at our RV site:

When the canal builders reached a river or stream that flowed into the Potomac, they either built a culvert under the canal, or built an aqueduct over the river (if the river was too large for a culvert). The aqueduct was actually a bridge filled with water allowing the canal boat to float to the other side. The largest of the 11 aqueducts is over the Monocacy River. The last time I saw it, it was braced to prevent a collapse. It has now been restored:

The Civil War battlefield in Antietam, the site of the bloodiest single day in American history, lies near the canal. On September 17, 1862 the battle began. 12 hours and 23,000 casualties later, it, and the Confederate Army of Virginia's invasion of the North were over. Here is part of the Sunken Road, where 15,000 were killed or wounded:

Getting closer to Washington at Great Falls, the Potomac's water narrows through Mather Gorge where the rapids provide experienced kayakers with lots of adventure. The rapids here have been a navigation concern for a long time -- George Washington originally proposed constructing a canal to by-pass them:

Finally, at the terminus of the C & O Canal at Georgetown, the Canal is watered, and the Park Service offers canal boat rides which we of course took. The boat is drawn by mules, and passes through a lock, first locking from high water to low, and on the return trip reversing the locking from low to high. Here is a photo of a lock at Georgetown. The second photo shows a couple of sidewalk-based spectators watching as our boat floated up:

Everyone has heard of the terminus of the canal, even though they may not realize it. The lock system has many parts, such as weirs, feeder dams, wickets (tough to move when they get "sticky"!), sluice gates and upriver gates. The gates open and close to allow water into, and out of the locks. And sitting right at the end of the canal, is the namesake of these gates through which water flows: the Watergate Hotel.

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