Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
The Making of a Park
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After acquiring the canal in 1938, the National Park Service transformed its lower 22 miles from a flood-ravaged ruin to a restored waterway with operable locks. No comparable restoration project would be undertaken elsewhere. For the most part, later development work on the canal itself was limited to repairing flood damage and stabilizing aqueducts, locks, and other structures to slow their further deterioration. The cleanup of acquired lands and the addition of modest visitor use facilities constituted the most visible park development above Seneca.

While the canal parkway plan was alive, the Park Service did little to improve and maintain the towpath and canal bed in the unrestored portion. After 1956, when the Service abandoned the parkway and sought support for the national historical park, it devoted more serious attention to these primary resources. The National Capital Parks budget for fiscal 1957 included $91,300 for clearing and grubbing the canal. Approved by Director Conrad L. Wirth, the program entailed removing all growth less than two inches in diameter and cutting and poisoning the stumps of all larger trees. Initial work was scheduled for areas adjoining Whites Ferry, Brunswick, Shepherdstown, Williamsport, Hancock, Little Orleans, Paw Paw, Old Town, and Cumberland. [1]

Tonoloway Creek Aqueduct
Tonoloway Creek Aqueduct stabilization, 1976.

As the first year's work neared completion, Orville W. Crowder and Grant Conway of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club protested the clearing of the canal bed beyond areas that were to be immediately rewatered or otherwise developed. Ben H. Thompson, chief of the NPS Division of Recreation Resource Planning, toured the denuded areas and agreed with them. "Such clearing tends to lead to a monotonous sameness and to destroy variety that should be preserved," he wrote Wirth. "As soon as the trees are cleared, sunlight and the movement of air results in drying up the canal bed, the necessity of spraying new trees and shrubs beginning to grow becomes evident, and the net result will be long stretches of grassy canal that have to be mowed. These long grassy stretches are no more interesting than the grassy strips between divided highways and they are almost sterile insofar as any wildlife or natural habitat values are concerned." He recommended that clearing be stopped until the Service had developed a detailed plan for preservation, development, and use. Wirth concurred. [2] Most of the cleared sections were allowed to revegetate, meanwhile exhibiting the "neglected look" rued by George Palmer in 1959 (page 120).

A primary Service goal was to restore and maintain the continuity of the towpath, which neighboring landowners and others had crossed with livestock fences and cut to drain sections of the canal and cross with roads. The only sections that had received much maintenance since the end of canal navigation in 1924 were those used for vehicular access to adjoining properties—a use incompatible with park objectives. As noted, Mac Dale did much to open and improve the towpath during his superintendency of the upper canal. His maintenance crews removed fences, cut trees and brush, and filled several gaps. In many instances the Service had granted vehicular use and fencing permits that could not be discontinued immediately, but required gates and stiles made fences remaining in the early 1960s less obstructive. [3]

Dale and his successors sought to render the towpath navigable by park maintenance and patrol vehicles as well as hikers and cyclists. This objective, unexceptionable from a management standpoint, caused occasional problems with those less attuned to operational requirements. The projects at Widewater in 1970 and above Dams 4 and 5 in 1971 elicited the strongest reactions. The specter of bulldozers converting a trail into a road, destroying trees, and scarring the surroundings brought cries of protest from nature-loving constituents unsympathetic to arguments that the towpath was historically broad and bare and that vegetation would soon cover the scars.

The towpath became a frequent topic of discussion at meetings of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Commission. Concerned members perceived a continuing tendency by park management to make it too roadlike and surface it with non-native materials like blue-stone. In May 1980, with Park Service support, the commission adopted a resolution to guide towpath treatment. It called for the towpath to be considered as a continuous historic resource, whose restoration and maintenance should conform insofar as practical to the conditions documented in a 1974 report on the canal prism by NPS historian Harlan D. Unrau. In accordance with Unrau's findings, the towpath would be maintained to an average width of twelve feet and to an elevation two feet above the historic water line using shale, bankrun gravel, and other indigenous surfacing materials. [4]

In the 1950s the NPS installed several primitive campgrounds along the canal. None had drinking water or met usual Service standards. Mac Dale inaugurated the hiker-biker campground system, developed the Antietam Creek campground, and installed the Four Locks boat ramp and access in the early 1960s. He contracted with a well driller to provide drinking water.

Recreational development climaxed under Dean McClanahan. With labor from the Harpers Ferry Job Corps Center and special "accelerated public works" funding during fiscal 1969, the park added drive-in campgrounds and boat ramps at Fifteenmile Creek and McCoys Ferry; access roads and boat ramps at Little Tonoloway Creek, Taylors Landing, Snyders Landing, Dam 4, and Dargan Bend; an access road and parking area at Dam 5; and 21 more hiker-biker campgrounds. The park's large routed wooden entrance signs and concrete mileposts were installed during the same period.

Several of the lockhouses were still occupied in the postwar years; these and others underwent a variety of treatments. The frame lockhouse at Lock 5, rehabilitated in 1939 and last occupied by Julia King, was razed in 1957 for George Washington Memorial Parkway road construction. NCP rehabilitated the Lock 6 lockhouse for employee housing in the early 1960s. Its occupant in the early 1970s was Thomas F. Hahn, author of the popular Towpath Guide to the C & O Canal, then supervising canal interpretation at Great Falls.

The lockhouse at Lock 7, rehabilitated in 1939, was occupied by NCP Chief Naturalist Donald Edward McHenry during the war and by U.S. Park Police officers through the 1950s. Construction of the parkway road left it accessible only via the towpath and thus unsuitable for employee occupancy. In 1977 the vacant house was "adopted" by the Bethesda Jaycees and Junior Suburban Women's Club, who funded a new roof for it the next year. When preservation professionals at Park Service headquarters complained that the rough cedar shakes used were historically inaccurate, Regional Director Jack Fish apologized but declined to order their replacement before the roof's expected life span. [5]

Lock 6 Lockhouse
Lockhouse at Lock 6 before restoration.
Lock 13 Lockhouse

Lock 14 Lockhouse
Lockhouses at Locks 13 (top) and 14 (bottom) c. 1950, later demolished.

The lockhouses at Locks 8, 11, and 13, never modernized, remained occupied under permit through the mid-1950s. The first two were ultimately vacated and boarded up; the last was razed in 1961 for construction of the Capital Beltway. A later frame house at Lock 14 was also demolished. The Service rehabilitated the Lock 10 lockhouse, occupied through the 1950s without plumbing, together with that at Lock 6 in the early 1960s. The Lock 6 and 10 lockhouses were the only ones serving as park employee residences at this writing.

One other lockhouse also serves as a residence—that at Lock 21, or Swains Lock. The canal's only continuously occupied lockhouse is home to Frederick and Virginia Swain. Virginia is Frederick's mother and the widow of Robert Swain, son of the canal company's last locktender there. After acquiring the canal, the Park Service permitted the Swains to remain for a monthly rent of five dollars. When NCP tried to raise the rent to $21 in 1959, Robert complained to an influential friend, Justice William O. Douglas. Douglas intervened with Director Wirth, and the rent was adjusted to $10 "on the basis of service to the Government, resulting from the occupancy of the house by a man who is familiar with the Canal, as well as the public service he provides through the rental of boats to the park patrons." After Robert died in 1967, the Service negotiated a concession arrangement with his widow and son, who thereafter paid a higher but still modest annual fee reflecting their occupancy and income from canoe and boat rentals and refreshment sales. The Swains installed utilities and modernized the interior of the lockhouse themselves. [6]

Swains Lock and lockhouse
Swains Lock (Lock 21) and lockhouse, c. 1938.

Most other lockhouses remained vacant and received only enough repair to keep them intact, although a few have been used at one time or another. The Service permitted law enforcement and fish management personnel of the Maryland Game and Inland Fish Commission to use the Lock 25 lockhouse at Edwards Ferry in the 1950s. On spring, summer, and fall weekends since 1975, Girl Scout groups have recreated domestic life with period costumes and furnishings at the Lock 24 (Rileys Lock) lockhouse at Seneca. The Service reconstructed the deteriorated log house at Lock 75 in 1978-79 and has opened it to the public on special occasions. Unfortunately, fire destroyed three vacant lockhouses of frame construction: those at Lock 26 (Woods Lock) in 1969, Lock 74 in 1976, and Lock 54 in 1981.

The Paw Paw Tunnel and its immediate surroundings had to be repaired on several occasions. An NCP inspection in April 1956 revealed fallen brick, cavities in the towpath, and gaps in the handrail within the tunnel. The timber-framed towpath outside the downstream end was rotten and required total replacement, and a rock slide had obliterated part of the towpath beyond the wooden section. Director Wirth ordered full repair at a cost of $30,000, and NCP maintenance forces carried out the work that summer. [7] The rock walls of the cut at the downstream end remained unstable, and in 1968 some 15,000 cubic yards of shale slid down to block much of the tunnel's portal, carrying away part of its facade. The Service cleared the slide in 1976-77 but had to let a $494,000 contract for more stabilization and cleanup at both portals in 1979. The wooden towpath leading from the downstream portal was replaced again at that time.

Before enactment of the park legislation, the canal's managers had given priority to recreational development. Spurred by the park commission, emphasis shifted to preservation of the canal's historic resources after 1971. Preservation needs greatly exceeded available funds, so creativity was called for. At a commission meeting in May 1972, Edwin F. Wesely asked if it would be possible "to tie the canal somehow in with the Bicentennial," inasmuch as parks commemorating the American Revolution were slated for special funding in the coming years. NCP Director Russell E. Dickenson did not think he could get the canal on the official bicentennial list but promised to take advantage of the opportunity should it arise. [8]

A month later, on June 23-25, tropical storm Agnes delivered the Potomac Valley's greatest flood since 1936. The flood waters seriously eroded 66 miles of the towpath and berm wall. There were 19 major breaks below Seneca and nine above, ranging from twenty to 195 feet long. The longest was in the historically unstable towpath embankment at Widewater, which washed out to a depth of 21 feet. Twenty-two culverts suffered major damage, one disappeared, and 140 of them were blocked with silt and debris, threatening further flooding and canal erosion from the streams they carried. Many of the aqueducts and locks were damaged, and many bridges were swept away. Among the latter were five steel footbridges installed in 1969 for access from the towpath below Lock 18 to the Great Falls overlook on Olmsted Island. Thousands of trees were uprooted, numerous private cottages washed onto park property, and access roads, picnic areas, and parking lots were heavily silted, damaged, and destroyed. [9]


Restoration work below Paw Paw tunnel, 1956.

Fish, Zarb, Dickensen, Morton
Jack Fish, Frank Zarb (Office of Management and Budget), Russell Dickenson, and Rogers Morton surveying flood damage at Lock 16, July 1972.

Secretary of the Interior Rogers C. B. Morton surveyed the destruction in July. In the following months he approved the transfer of $400,000 from other projects for repairs and pledged his support for restoration of the canal to its pre-Agnes condition. [10] Because considerably more money was needed for the purpose, he also approved the park's inclusion on the list of bicentennial areas, despite its lack of relationship to the Revolution.

To plan and oversee the work, Park Service officials established the C & O Canal Restoration Team as a special field unit of the National Capital Parks Team of the Denver Service Center (the primary Service unit providing and contracting for architectural, engineering, and planning services). Organized in September 1973 under Richard G. Huber's leadership, the restoration team occupied park structures at Seneca and Williamsport. The urgency of its mission was heightened by the collapse of the center and west span of the Catoctin Creek Aqueduct on October 30 after heavy rains. This was the second such disaster of the decade—the Seneca Aqueduct's west span had collapsed on September 11, 1971, requiring emergency stabilization of the remaining structure and construction of a bridge to restore towpath continuity across the gap in early 1972.

The restoration team identified those canal features most in need of stabilization and repair and contracted for design and construction services as necessary. The park's bicentennial program ultimately comprised 27 projects completed by July 1976 at a total cost of $4,250,000. Contractors carried out 14 of them; park maintenance crews undertook the rest. Constituting the most extensive work on the canal since the prewar restoration below Seneca, the projects ranged from wall repairs in Georgetown to aqueduct stabilization near Cumberland. A summary follows. [11]

1. Wall Stabilization, Lock 3 (Mile 0.5): In 1975 part of the canal wall by Lock 3 collapsed in the wake of blasting for an adjoining Inland Steel office building and subsurface parking garage. The restoration team prepared plans and specifications for repairs, carried out by the park maintenance force. Successive building construction in Georgetown contributed to further destabilization of canal walls there, leading to a more extensive wall reconstruction project west of Wisconsin Avenue in 1979-81.

2. Towpath Restoration, Foundry Branch to Lock 5 (Miles 1.3-5.0): Working under a $437,462 contract, C. W. Stack & Associates of Newington, Virginia, filled breaks, reestablished the historic towpath grade and width, and repaired the canal bed in 1973-74. Following the contract work, the park built a walkway over the 350-foot-long canal spillway east of Chain Bridge. This heavily used towpath section was the first to be restored to historic grade after Agnes. Completion of the work enabled the canal to be rewatered below the Lock 5 inlet in August 1974.

3. Towpath Restoration, Lock 5 to Lock 10 (Miles 5.0-8.7): Here the park maintenance force continued the work done under contract below.

4. Little Falls Creek Culvert, Berm Bank Stabilization (Mile 4.8): After Little Falls Creek breached the berm embankment in 1975, fill was placed over its culvert and the 96-inch Potomac Interceptor Sewer running within the embankment. Another freshet in the spring of 1976 revisited the damage, at which point the berm was rebuilt with gabions (rock-filled steel baskets) tied to reinforced concrete piles.

5. Repairs to Breaks, Widewater Area (Miles 12.4-13.45): Agnes drained Widewater through two large breaks, one eighty feet long and 17 feet deep, the other 195 feet long and 21 feet deep. Park maintenance crews plugged the gaps with fill compacted on and around gabion cores. More gabions were placed along the curve at the lower end of Widewater where the larger break had occurred to forestall erosion of the fill from wave action. An inoperative waste weir designed to help control the water level was renovated. The project cost more than $300,000. As previously noted (page 127), the park's effort to bridge a rocky stretch at the head of Widewater was halted by a public protest in the spring of 1976.

6, 7. Repairs to Locks 15 and 16 (Miles 13.45 and 13.63): The flood waters scoured the earth around the bypass flumes of both locks to bedrock level, leaving the berm side masonry completely exposed. All lock gates were swept away, and stones were dislodged from the lock walls. Study revealed that the locks had not been restored to their original height in 1938-40. Enough stone was recovered from Widewater to replace all missing stones in Lock 16, and a band of brick—historically used for repairs—was added beneath the capstones to raise the lock to its proper elevation. Concrete, used by the canal company in repairing Lock 15, served the same purpose there. Timbers lagged to the tops of the dams adjoining the locks raised the dams correspondingly. The masonry on the back of the berm lock walls was pargeted, the pool areas behind the dams were filled and graded, and riprap was placed at the upstream end of each berm wall to curb erosion during future floods. New gates and hardware were installed at both locks, and the towpath by them was raised to its historic grade. Park maintenance crews carried out all work for an estimated $295,000.

8. Restoration of Stop Lock, Level 16 (Mile 13.77): Berma Road, running along the inland side of Widewater, enabled hikers and bicyclists to bypass the rocky and occasionally severed towpath past Widewater, but there was no safe connection across the canal at the upper end. A $29,380 contract with Curtin & Johnson, Inc., of Washington in late 1973 provided a bridge over the stop lock above Lock 16 and an earth ramp down to the towpath. A second contract for $128,301 with the Chantilly Construction Company of Chantilly, Virginia, in early 1975 enabled the functional restoration of the stop lock and adjoining guard wall, which were designed to divert flood waters descending the canal into the Potomac. Because the earth ramp would now impede flood diversion, it was removed and replaced by a wooden stairway.

9. Muddy Branch Culvert Repair (Mile 19.7): Working under a $60,000 contract in 1973-74, Curtin & Johnson uncovered and pargeted much of the culvert barrel, reconstructed the headwall and wingwalls at its outflow end, made lesser repairs at its inflow end, placed riprap upstream for stabilization, and repaired five hundred feet of towpath.

10. Little Monocacy Creek Culvert Repair (Mile 41.97): This twenty-foot-diameter culvert suffered complete failure of its inflow headwall and 16 feet of its barrel. The remainder of the barrel had large voids, and there were several missing ringstones and a large cavity at the outflow. Repair work prescribed by Dewberry, Nealon & Davis of Fairfax, Virginia, under a $17,746 engineering design contract was carried out by Paul E. Lehman of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in 1975 at a cost of $95,642. Reinforced concrete was extensively used in the reconstruction and repairs, although a number of missing stones were recovered and reinstalled. Upon completion of the contract work, the park maintenance force reconstructed the canal bed over the culvert.

11. Monocacy River Aqueduct Repair and Stabilization (Mile 42.2): The collapse of a wingwall and the loss of coping stones in the 1972 flood further weakened the canal's largest aqueduct. Federal Highway Administration engineers designed stabilization measures, and after a false start with one contractor, the project was awarded to Chantilly Construction for $334,135. The aqueduct's trunk was regraded to drain outward, and a waterproof membrane was placed to keep water from percolating down through the structure. Reinforcing rods were imbedded to hold the ringstones of the seven 54-foot arches. Unfortunately, funds were inadequate for the major rebuilding required to fully stabilize the aqueduct. It was therefore necessary to compress it in a corset of horizontal timbers and vertical steel channels on each face of the structure tied together by steel rods running across its top and through its arches.

12. Catoctin Creek Aqueduct Stabilization (Mile 51.5): The collapse of the center and west span left the east arch and wingwalls and west abutment intact but vulnerable to further damage. The aqueduct was already missing its berm parapet and much masonry from all arches, and the westerly wingwall on the berm side was weakened by erosion from Catoctin Creek. The restoration team awarded a $9,000 design contract to Robinson Engineering of Falls Church, Virginia, and a $351,802 construction contract to the John Driggs Company of Camp Springs, Maryland. Stabilization work, carried out in 1974-75, included grouting voids, placing steel anchor rods, replacing stones retrieved from the creek, and repointing the masonry. The westerly creek embankment upstream from the aqueduct was riprapped with limestone. A concrete beam bridge was installed parallel to the aqueduct to link the severed towpath, but it lasted only until another flood in 1976. Towpath travelers were again directed to take an eight-mile detour via a state highway bridge until the U.S. Army supplied a Bailey bridge replacement in 1980.

13. Little Catoctin Creek Culvert Repair (Mile 52.51): The inflow headwall, 57 feet of the 16-foot-diameter culvert barrel, and the foundation on one side collapsed in the flood. Few stones from them could be recovered, requiring reconstruction of the missing sections in reinforced concrete. The outflow headwall and wingwalls were repaired with recovered stones. Dewberry, Nealon & Davis designed the project for $17,746; Cobar Construction Company of Annandale, Virginia, carried it out for $97,055 during 1975. After the contract work, the park maintenance force reconstructed the canal bed and berm embankment.

14. Towpath Continuity, Level 34 (Mile 61.6): Agnes breached the guard lock at Dam 3, across from Harpers Ferry, washing out the canal and towpath to a depth of five feet. The restoration team decided to retain the towpath break and span it with a forty-foot bridge to provide a flood relief valve in this area of recurring failure. Park maintenance personnel performed the work.

15, 16, 22. Stabilization of Guard Locks 4, 5, and 6 (Miles 84.5, 106.8, and 134.1): These guard locks were designed to protect the canal from the flooding of impounded river water and allow boats to pass between the canal and river. The original flood control gates of each lock had been lost previously and replaced by bulkheads that were now deteriorating and leaking. The corrective work, designed by Dewberry, Nealon & Davis for $61,947 and accomplished during 1975 by Plummer Construction of Hagerstown for $310,174, entailed extensive repairs to the locks and replacement of the bulkheads with removable cast-in-place concrete panels.

17. Stabilization of Lock 48 (Mile 108.8): The walls of Lock 48, one of the "four locks" where the canal cuts across Praether's Neck, were slowly collapsing inward. The park had installed wood cribbing in the lock in 1964, but this could not withstand the force of compression. Rather than rebuilding the lock at an estimated cost of $200,000, the park maintenance force filled it with earth, leaving the capstones exposed.

18. Mule Barn Restoration, Four Locks (Mile 108.92): The last mule barn on the canal partially collapsed in 1974. James Askins, chief of the restoration team's branch at Williamsport, supervised its disassembly and reconstruction with new and reused beams and boards.

19. Parkhead Level Culvert and Waste Weir Repair (Mile 119.78): Here as in several other places, the canal company had built a waste weir atop a culvert for canal drainage. Both had fallen into serious disrepair. Park maintenance personnel dismantled the weir and part of the culvert barrel, rebuilt the weir on concrete supports to relieve the culvert of its weight, rebuilt the barrel and filled voids with concrete, and repointed all stone masonry.

20. Tonoloway Creek Aqueduct Stabilization (Mile 122.9): The west abutment of the aqueduct no longer rested on bedrock, the single arch displayed extensive cracks and missing soffit stones, and the upstream face and wingwalls were badly damaged. Working under a $206,066 contract in 1975-76, William P. Bergan of Morrisville, Pennsylvania, shored the arch with steel beams and corseted the faces with wood and steel beams held in place by steel tie rods. Timber bulkheads constructed along both sides contained fill placed over the arch to keep it in compression.

21. Stabilization of Lock 54 (Mile 134): A failing foundation and voids in the walls rendered the lock highly unstable. As at Lock 48, a park maintenance crew filled it with earth in 1974 to prevent its collapse.

23. Woodmont Culvert Repair (Mile 135): The ten-foot-diameter culvert had been built on a timber foundation, which was no longer supported at the outflow end because the underlying soil had washed out. Park maintenance personnel dismantled the unstable portion, installed concrete footings, and rebuilt the barrel and outflow headwall and wingwalls with stone and concrete in 1974-75.

24. Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct Stabilization (Mile 136.6): The upstream parapet, wingwalls, and arch face were badly damaged. An $18,930 design contract with Dewberry, Nealon & Davis and a $32,490 construction contract with C. W. Stack & Associates led to stabilization measures like those taken at the Tonoloway Creek Aqueduct. Following the contract work in 1975, park maintenance personnel placed earth dikes across the canal above and below the aqueduct to restrict water from saturating its rubble fill.

25. Fifteenmile Creek Aqueduct Stabilization (Mile 140.8): The aqueduct was still largely intact but bulging. The project, designed by Dewberry, Nealon & Davis for $21,048 and carried out by Paul E. Lehman, Inc., for $147,787, entailed excavating the fill over the arch, sealing the exposed masonry with shotcrete, installing a dike across the canal above the aqueduct and internal drains to carry off water seeping through the trunk, and replacing missing capstones along the berm parapet.

26. Town Creek Aqueduct Dewatering (Mile 162.3): Although the aqueduct was in serious condition, bicentennial program work here was limited to construction of a new concrete dike and rehabilitation of a waste weir to keep water out of the structure from the rewatered section of the canal just upstream. The aqueduct itself received stabilization treatment in 1977.

27. Evitts Creek Aqueduct Stabilization (Mile 180.7): The upstream side of the smallest and most westerly aqueduct was in an advanced state of deterioration, aggravated by water seepage and winter freezing action. Following a $21,057 design contract with Dewberry, Nealon & Davis, C. W. Stack & Associates undertook a $58,097 stabilization project in 1975-76 using the methods adopted for the Tonoloway and Sideling Hill aqueducts. A park maintenance crew then built dikes across the canal at each end of the structure. The park performed further repair work on the berm wingwalls in 1983.

In 1977, following the bicentennial program, the C & O Canal Restoration Team's branch in Williamsport was superseded by the Williamsport Preservation Training Center. Like its forerunner, the training center was headed by Jim Askins and quartered in the Cushwa Warehouse, a historic canal-side building acquired for the park. The center developed a three-year internship program to train preservation specialists throughout the national park system. With its great variety of preservation needs and project opportunities, the canal park was an ideal location for the facility. In October 1987 oversight of the center shifted from the Denver Service Center to the Harpers Ferry Center, the Park Service's headquarters for museum activities and interpretive media. Askins retired in 1989 and was succeeded by Thomas McGrath in 1990.

The bicentennial restoration program left much undone, including replacement of the bridges to the Great Falls overlook on Olmsted Island. Projects to preserve the canal's historic features and restore the towpath for public use had priority, and there was some sentiment that the crowded Great Falls area might be better off without the added attraction of the falls overlook. (A picnic area at Great Falls was removed in 1973 in an effort to reduce crowding there.) The Great Falls Development Concept Plan approved in 1981 called for the bridges to be replaced, but there was still no prospect of action.

Local initiative took over in 1985 when William E. Hanna, Jr., a Montgomery County Council member, advanced a plan to obtain bridge funding from Maryland, the county, and private contributors as well as Congress. Another flood that November postponed action on Hanna's proposal, but he persisted, and in August 1989 the Park Service formally endorsed it. The county assumed responsibility for accepting all contributions and designing and constructing the bridges. Maryland appropriated $200,000, the county and Congress each appropriated $100,000, and private parties contributed the balance of the estimated $500,000 project cost. [12] If all went as planned, Great Falls visitors would be able to view the falls again by the twentieth anniversary of Agnes.

By coincidence, Hanna's funding proposal for the Olmsted Island bridges came just as the Service installed a new footbridge across the Potomac at Harpers Ferry. Attached to one of the old B & O Railroad bridges there, the bridge afforded Harpers Ferry's many visitors safe and easy access to the canal for the first time. Towpath use in the Lock 33 area rose significantly as a result. Congress designated the bridge the Goodloe E. Byron Memorial Pedestrian Walkway in honor of the late Maryland congressman, who had suffered a fatal heart attack while jogging on the towpath below Lock 38 on October 12, 1978. [13]

The November 1985 flood did less damage to canal structures than Agnes, but it scoured much of the towpath and deposited vast quantities of debris between Oldtown and Seneca. Superintendent Dick Stanton closed most of the park for an extended period to buttress his appeal for emergency funds, even though many parts were usable within a short time. His appeal was successful: as had Agnes, the flood galvanized support for the park within the administration and Congress, eliciting enough money to restore it to better condition than before. At the suggestion of NPS Director William Penn Mott, Jr., Stanton and his staff also organized a massive volunteer cleanup effort. Secretary of the Interior Donald Paul Hodel endorsed the program as part of his "Take Pride in America" campaign and participated in its opening at the Potomac Fish and Game Club on June 1, 1986. By the end of August more than 7,000 Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other volunteers had joined in. Stanton later accepted a "Take Pride in America" award for the cleanup activity from President Ronald Reagan in a Rose Garden ceremony. [14]

With the lands acquired for the park came many buildings. Those postdating the canal's operation were generally removed unless they could serve some park management purpose. Earlier buildings, part of the historic scene during the canal navigation period, warranted preservation. A few, like the Cushwa Warehouse at Williamsport, could be adapted to serve Park Service needs. Unfortunately, there were no evident uses for many of the historic farmhouses and other structures acquired along the canal. If they were not already in poor condition, they soon became so once vacated and neglected. In the struggle for funds to preserve the canal itself, there was little chance of obtaining government money for peripheral buildings.

The alternative was help from outside. The Friends of Great Falls Tavern, organized in Potomac in 1973, donated money and volunteer labor in the following years to help restore and maintain that key structure. Beginning in 1977, as noted above, Bethesda civic groups funded preservation work on the Lock 7 lockhouse. Another significant instance of outside help involved the Abner Cloud House.

Secretary Hodel launches volunteer flood cleanup, June 1, 1986.

The Abner Cloud House, on Canal Road two miles above Georgetown, was built in 1801 and is the oldest standing structure along the canal. The Park Service obtained it in 1957 under the acquisition authority for the Potomac Palisades Parkway (the George Washington Memorial Parkway's counterpart within the District of Columbia). Because the stone house was not a canal structure, was in deteriorated condition, and appeared unlikely to serve any public or management purpose, there was some sentiment in NCP for demolishing it. A staff recommendation to this effect in 1962 was not followed, nor was a 1966 proposal to renovate it for employee housing. [15] Action awaited a proposal in 1975 from Chapter III of the Colonial Dames of America.

The Colonial Dames chapter, represented by Polly Logan, a Washington socialite, and Helen Byrd, sister-in-law of Sen. Harry F. Byrd, Jr., initially proposed to contribute some $50,000 toward the restoration of the house, following which it would furnish and occupy its two upper stories as a clubhouse. Logan reduced the figure to $20,000 at a park commission meeting in September 1975. Nancy Long, the commission chairman, expressed some concern about advancing the restoration project ahead of established priorities but did not dissent from the commission's consensus in favor of seeking federal funds for it. With the aid of the well-connected Colonial Dames, the Service obtained $150,000 for the house from Congress in its fiscal 1976 appropriation, after which it negotiated a cooperative agreement with the chapter. [16]

The agreement required the Colonial Dames to contribute only $16,000, and Long became highly critical of what she called the park's "sweetheart deal" with a restricted membership group. "How many individuals or organizations are able to obtain a public building rent-free for ten years, with an option for renewal, for . . . only $16,000?" she wrote Superintendent Bill Failor in September 1976. "National Capital Parks appears to regard the $150,000 in public monies obtained through influence in the Congress as a direct contribution from the Colonial Dames, Chapter III." Still, the house would not have been restored without the chapter's involvement. Long did gain a requirement that the chapter open the upper floors of the house to the public at least six days a year. [17] As part of the restoration project, the above-ground basement fronting on the canal was renovated to serve the public as an information facility.

Among the most significant structures acquired under the national historical park legislation was McMahon's Mill, adjoining the towpath along the slackwater above Dam 4. The three-story gristmill, of heavy timber-frame construction on a limestone base, dated from the early 19th century. The park's general plan, written in 1975, described its condition as "remarkably good" and suggested that it might be restored to operation. The Park Service acquired title to the property in January 1976, but William B. McMahon, the former owner, retained use of the mill for storage until the spring of 1981. Jim Askins then examined it, pronounced it "in an advanced state of disrepair," and estimated that $101,600 would be required to stabilize it. [18]

McMahon wrote Interior Secretaries James G. Watt, William P. Clark, and Hodel between 1983 and 1985 to complain of Service negligence in allowing the mill to deteriorate. He sought to repurchase or lease it and convert it to a restaurant. The Service denied his request, but the attention focused on the mill spurred the park to stabilize its exterior and some of its interior in 1986. [19]

Legislation passed by Congress in 1980 authorized the Service to lease historic properties to private parties and retain the proceeds to defray administrative and maintenance costs. [20] This provision offered new hope for historic buildings along the canal that were unneeded for management or visitor use purposes and stood low on the priority list for government preservation funding.

A 19th-century frame house at Lock 22, Pennyfield Lock, fell into this category. Occupied until the Service acquired it in the mid-1970s, the Pennyfield house deteriorated rapidly thereafter. Superintendent Stanton identified it as a candidate for leasing, and in 1985 the National Capital Regional Office invited proposals from parties willing to restore the house as a private residence. A local developer was willing to do so if he were given the property rent-free for ten years. The park commission endorsed this plan in September 1986 despite some concern about "privatizing" part of the park. [21]

Action was then delayed by objections from a local Sierra Club chapter, which complained that the developer was receiving too much acreage with the house, and by technical concerns about the restoration plans from Maryland's historic preservation officer. After these hurdles were finally overcome, worsening economic conditions led the developer to withdraw. By 1991 the house was in such bad shape that Superintendent Tom Hobbs recommended its demolition. [22]

The Pennyfield house episode did not encourage use of the 1980 leasing authority elsewhere in the park. Meanwhile, however, making creative use of a 1970 law authorizing contracts in support of "living exhibits and interpretive demonstrations," [23] the park leased out four other houses acquired during the 1970s that contributed to the canal's historic scene: the Barr house by Lock 38, the Burnside house above McMahon's Mill, the Shank house near Dam 5, and the Anthony house at Pearre. Occupancy best served their preservation, and this law also allowed the lease receipts to go toward their upkeep.

Few national parklands are more vulnerable to the effects of adjoining development than the long, narrow C & O Canal. Dealing with potential and actual development alongside the park has been a major concern of Park Service managers over the years.

As noted earlier, fears in Maryland that an expanded federal presence along the Potomac might impede access to the river led to the 1953 law requiring the granting of public utility easements and authorizing the granting of other rights across canal lands (page 64). As part of its brief for the national historical park legislation in 1959, the Service cited the easements granted to that time: to the city of Rockville, for a water intake structure and pipeline below Swains Lock; to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), for a water intake structure and pipelines near Watts Branch; to the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, for gas pipelines crossing farther upstream between Swains and Pennyfield locks; to the Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO), for water pipelines and a cable crossing at Dickerson; to the city of Hagerstown, for water pipelines at Williamsport; to the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, for an underground telephone cable at Williamsport; to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, for sewerage, a utility tunnel, and access across canal land below Cumberland; to the Cumberland and Allegany Gas Company, for gas lines at Cumberland and Mexico Farms; to the city of Cumberland, for sewerage. [24]

When WSSC proposed to construct its river intake and filtration plant near Watts Branch, three-quarters of a mile above Swains Lock, in 1957, Director Wirth expressed concern to WSSC's chairman about the facility's visual effect on the canal. After meeting with NPS officials, WSSC engineers modified their design to the Service's satisfaction. Much community opposition to the project remained, and Ira N. Gabrielson, president of the Wildlife Management Institute, joined Potomac citizens in urging the Service and the Interior Department to deny WSSC the access rights it needed. In response, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Roger Ernst cited the 1953 legislation requiring the department to grant utility easements subject to reasonable conditions for protection of the federal interest, described WSSC's cooperation in minimizing the facility's impact, and declared that alternate locations in the vicinity would entail no lesser effect. Obtaining official Service clearance in May 1958, WSSC built the Watts Branch plant during the next two years. [25] In the late 1970s, again following negotiations with and approval from the Service, it added a new river intake structure linked to the main plant by a bridge across the canal and towpath. The concrete addition, designed by architect Paul Speiregen and completed in 1981, included informational panels on the canal and river.

The Service became involved with PEPCO's Dickerson project in 1956. In conjunction with its new power plant there, the company proposed to acquire land on both sides of the canal, build a 12-foot dam across the Potomac feeding water into an intake structure, and lay two pipes under the canal to the plant inland. Although they were unhappy about the impact of the project, Service officials gave PEPCO the permission necessary for it to begin work in mid-1957. [26] Maryland's U.S. senators introduced bills in each Congress through the early 1960s to sanction the dam, which would flood seven acres of parkland; but opposition from Virginia and conservation interests blocked action on the legislation, and the dam was never built.

In the early 1970s PEPCO sought permission from state and county authorities to greatly enlarge its Dickerson facility. By this time much flyash residue from the coal-burning plant had washed into the canal, raising the ire of park supporters. Eager to improve its standing with the park and the community, PEPCO agreed to clean, restore, and rewater more than a mile of the canal in 1973 and did so the following year. Dick Stanton and Assistant Secretary of the Interior Nathaniel P. Reed nevertheless opposed PEPCO's request for a zoning exception to construct two 850-foot exhaust stacks. But the county appeals board approved the exception, and PEPCO built one of the stacks within four hundred feet of the towpath in 1976. [27] (The second stack, to serve a future plant addition 2,000 feet from the towpath, was not built.)

In 1967 another power company, Potomac Edison, requested an easement across the canal for a high-voltage interstate transmission line. The line would have a visual impact on Harpers Ferry, Antietam, and the Paw Paw Bends area of the canal and proposed Potomac National River. Responding to objections from Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall, Potomac Edison proposed a new alignment that would avoid these areas but more severely affect the canal and river in the Dam 4 area, where the line would parallel the south bank for more than a mile about 1,000 feet from the bank. Udall accepted the realignment in March 1968. [28]

A year later, the owners of a tract to be crossed by the line paralleling the river offered to give the government a scenic easement on their property to preclude Potomac Edison from condemning a right-of-way across it, thereby forcing the company further back from the river. Acting on legal advice that the Interior Department had no authority to acquire an easement there, especially one that appeared to satisfy a private interest, Assistant Secretary Leslie L. Glasgow declined the offer. He urged Potomac Edison to move the line voluntarily, but the company refused, and he would not insist that it change the alignment Udall had accepted. On July 1, 1969, Interior granted Potomac Edison the permission it sought to cross the canal below Dam 4. [29]

At this point the House Committee on Government Operations launched an investigation of the power line's impact and Interior's response to the permit application. Its report, issued in May 1970, concluded that the department could have done more to protect the canal. It recommended improved procedures for the review and approval of such projects—procedures like those soon adopted under the recently enacted National Environmental Policy Act. The investigation had no effect on Potomac Edison's alignment but did prompt the addition of an extra tower to lower the line's profile as viewed from the towpath. [30]

The extensive redevelopment of lower Georgetown during the 1970s and 1980s had a significant impact on the canal there. New offices, stores, and restaurants brought more people to the area, increasing park use. When nine developers of properties along the canal sought permission to use park land for construction, access, and other purposes benefiting their enterprises, the Park Service was able to obtain benefits in return. For example, the builders of the Four Seasons Hotel agreed to set that building thirty feet back from the park boundary and resurface the adjoining towpath between the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway and 29th Street in brick. Between Thomas Jefferson and 30th streets, Inland Steel's Foundry Mall development on the south side of the canal included space for a park visitor facility, opened in 1976. The facility was later moved to a booth in the mall's lower level.

A canal-side plaza across from this development became the site of a memorial to Justice William O. Douglas. On March 15, 1977, President Jimmy Carter approved legislation dedicating the canal and towpath of the park to Douglas with a suitable memorial "in grateful recognition of his long outstanding service as a prominent American conservationist and for his efforts to preserve and protect the canal and towpath from development." [31] The memorial took the form of a bronze bust of Douglas sculpted by Wendy Ross, a Service employee at Glen Echo, mounted on a granite pedestal. Douglas was present at the unveiling ceremony on May 17, 1977. The park also added references to the Douglas dedication on its large routed wood entrance signs.

In the Canal Square development west of 31st Street, an old brick warehouse along the canal was rehabilitated as a restaurant and retail sales building. In 1969, in exchange for an annual rental payment, the Service permitted the developer to build a promenade deck on park property overlooking and accessible from the towpath. By the mid-1980s the deck had deteriorated and become a hangout for teenage drinkers, and Superintendent Stanton and the park commission opposed renewal of the permit. The owner corrected the problems and appealed to Director Mott, who judged the deck a desirable public amenity and extended the permit in 1988. [32]

In 1983 Washington Harbour Associates and the Western Development Corporation began negotiations with the Service in connection with a major development they planned on the Georgetown waterfront. Part of the proposed development was a hotel and office building occupying the tract between 30th Street and Rock Creek—the "Parcel G" on which the Service had received a twenty-foot height limitation easement when it acquired the canal in 1938 (page 19). If the Service would relinquish the easement, the developer would pay to restore the canal tidelock at the mouth of Rock Creek, improve park lands along the creek and river, grant public access and facade easements within the development, and perpetually maintain certain park improvements. [33]

Georgetown civic activists opposed to private waterfront development disliked the Washington Harbour plans and lobbied against the proposed agreement. Among the opponents at a Service hearing in January 1984 was John Nolen, Jr., who had been actively involved with the canal's acquisition and development as chief planner for the National Capital Park and Planning Commission in the 1930s. Rather than bartering the height easement away, the Service should seek full title to the parcel, Nolen argued. But there was little chance that Congress would appropriate funds to buy this tract or the developer's land between 30th and 31st streets sought by the opposition. Finding the exchange equitable and in the public interest, Regional Director Jack Fish approved it in October 1984. [34] An opposing group sued, but its lower court victory in May 1985 was overturned on appeal that October.

Under the agreement, Washington Harbour Associates contributed $1 million for the development of a riverfront park west of 31st Street and $275,000 for restoration of the tidelock. The central Washington Harbour complex and the park were subsequently completed, but economic factors and a change of management delayed construction on the parcel east of 30th Street, and the tidelock contribution remained in escrow with the National Park Foundation. Neither the private development nor the tidelock restoration was imminent at this writing.

At the other end of the park, yet another canal parkway proposal loomed. In 1988 Maryland's State Highway Administration advanced plans for a new road improving access from Cumberland to South Cumberland and the municipal airport. The road would have occupied part of the last mile of the canal that had been buried by the Corps of Engineers flood control project in the 1950s. The Park Service, with the support of the park commission, opposed this alignment, and the State Highway Administration responded in 1989 with an alternative "canal parkway" concept developed by EDAW Associates. The road would now run alongside the canal on property occupied by two CSX railroad tracks—property that was in Service ownership and figured in the proposed exchange for CSX property in Harpers Ferry (page 118). Where it directly abutted the canal, it would be supported by a retaining wall ten to 15 feet high. The road embankment could serve as a flood control levee, allowing the last 4,900 feet of the canal to be excavated and rewatered. To illustrate how the road would relate to the canal, State Highway Administrator Hal Kassoff cited the stretch of Canal Road beside the canal above Georgetown. [35]

The C & O Canal Association and some past and present members of the park commission opposed the canal parkway. Canal Road, with its heavy commuter traffic directly opposite the towpath, was something they did not want to duplicate in Cumberland. But a majority of commission members voted to support further study of the concept by the state. Ownership of land needed for the parkway gave the Service a strong negotiating hand, and Regional Director Robert Stanton took advantage of it. In correspondence with Kassoff, he conditioned Service cooperation with the study on commitments from the state, CSX, and the Corps of Engineers designed to maximize benefits and minimize harm to the park. While not endorsing the parkway, Service officials were hopeful that it could lead to a net gain for the canal in Cumberland. [36]

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Last Updated: 11-Oct-2004