The Lock Keepers House

The Lock Keepers House

Down the street from the National World War II Memorial and in the shadow of The Washington Monument stands a small stone house.  Located on the National Mall at the corner of 17th Street and Constitution Avenue (MAP), the Lock Keeper’s House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, yet is often overlooked despite being centrally located and very accessiblr.

Many years ago, the downtown area of the Capitol city had a series of canals.  The original plan for D.C. included a system of waterways to transport heavy goods at a time when roads and streets were few and muddy.  The first, the Washington City Canal, was opened in 1815.  Construction began in 1828 on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal, to connect D.C. to the fertile Ohio Valley.  The Washington Branch of the C&O Canal, built by 1833, joined the two waterways and opened the city to commerce.

However, the Canal ventures proved to be an expensive investment. The Washington Branch of the C&O Canal and the Washington City Canal carried so little commerce that they were abandoned 30 years after construction when railroads, not canals, dominated transportation in the nineteenth century.   In the 1870s the long process of filling these canals began.  What is left of the western branch of the C & O Canal way is now maintained as part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, with a linear trail following the old towpath.

On a recent bike ride I went by some of the remaining vestiges of that time, including the Lock Keeper’s House .  It is the only remnant of the D.C. branch of the C & O Canal.  The building was constructed as the house for the lock keeper of the Canal, who collected the tolls and kept records of commerce on the canal.  The house was abandoned in 1855.

It has had a varied history since then.  After falling into disrepair, the building was partially renovated in 1903, and used as Park Police headquarters. In 1940, the first floor of the building was used as rest rooms.  The interior was subsequently closed to the public and remains closed at this time.  But the exterior is certainly worth a visit.

 LockKeepersHouse03        LockKeepersHouse04        LockKeepersHouse02

 

 

 

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