Posts Tagged ‘Chesapeake and Ohio Canal’

C&OcanalMarker (1)

C&O Canal Completion Marker

The Washington Monument is an iconic obelisk that for many symbolizes the city of D.C.   But it is not the oldest obelisk in the city.  That honor goes to the one enclosed by a cast iron fence on the northwest corner of the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge (MAP), located in the city’s Georgetown neighborhood, that commemorates the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.  The C&O Canal’s monument is approximately ten feet tall, and was dedicated in 1850.  While that was two years after construction began on The Washington Monument, enormous structures necessarily take more time to build and the 555-foot Washington Monument wasn’t completed until 1885.

Despite being right next to a sidewalk along one of the busy streets of Georgetown, the C&O Canal obelisk is often overlooked these days by impatient passersby as they hurry along their way.  The canal itself is often overlooked as well, considered just part of the scenery.  But in its heyday the canal, also known as the “Grand Old Ditch,” was one of the primary modes of transporting materials into and out of the city for almost a century, operating from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac River from D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland.

Throughout the canal’s 184.5 mile length the elevation change rises and falls a total of 605 feet, which necessitated the construction of 74 canal locks (a device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels), 11 aqueducts (bridge structures that carry navigable waterway canals over obstacles) to cross major streams, and more than 240 culverts (structures that allows water to flow under an obstacle) to cross smaller streams.  A 3,118-foot-long tunnel, named the Paw Paw Tunnel, was also constructed to allow the canal to bypass the Paw Paw Bends, a six-mile stretch of the Potomac River containing five horseshoe-shaped bends.  An extension of the canal to the Ohio River at Pittsburgh was planned but never built.

While in operation the canal was integral to transporting sand, gravel, clay, paving stones, fire bricks, cement and lumber for construction of the expanding city, as well as bringing slaughtered hogs and meat, fresh and salted fish, flour, oats and grains, corn meal, whiskey and spirits, as well as coal from the Allegheny Mountains and other general merchandise to feed and provide for the city’s burgeoning population.

Without the canal, the city would not be what it is today.  That’s a lot of significance symbolized by a small, overlooked obelisk.

    

    
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  The canal way is now maintained as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, with a multi-use trail that follows the old towpath.  The canal and towpath trail parallels the Potomac River and extends from D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 184.5 miles.  Together with the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage, a rail trail where the extension of the C&O Canal to Pittsburgh would have been if it had been completed, they form a continuous 334.5-mile trail between D.C. and Pittsburgh.

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The Godey Lime Kilns

On previous bike rides I had seen a marker mounted on a small boulder on the other side of the busy traffic on Canal Drive, at 27th and L streets NW, just a few yards from Rock Creek Parkway under the K Street overpass (MAP), in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of D.C. I had never made my way over to see what it is though. So, on this ride I rode back there to finally check it out. I found out that the marker commemorates the site where the Godey Lime Kilns once stood.

The marker reads: “Godey’s Lime Kilns, 1833 – 1908, These kilns were used as late as 1908 supplying Washington with a fine grade of lime. The limestone was brought from quarries just beyond Seneca, Maryland over the C&O Canal. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service – in Washington, D.C.” The site is now an historical industrial building ruin which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On the site, strategically located on the east bank of Rock Creek at the terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal, William H. Godey founded the Godey Lime Kiln Company in 1864. The Godey Company’s facilities originally included four wood-fired ovens that were used to make lime and plaster, using limestone from Maryland quarries and brought to the kilns via the C&O Canal.

Godey made a fortune from the lime business because the growing national capital city had a nearly insatiable need for building materials. By May 1906, however, its fortunes had declined, and Godey’s was running ads to rent out its property. The kilns were taken over by John Dodson in 1897, and operated until 1907 when they were abandoned. Godey’s business closed the following year.

Only two of the original four ovens remain, and these two were half buried before the National Park Service and District of Columbia Highway Department combined efforts to excavate and restore them to the condition in which I was able to see them during this bike ride.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

 

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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Memorial to Bush the Fire Dog

Not all memorials in D.C. are large or prominant, and it would really easy to pass by this small one.  On a recent ride in D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, I stopped by to see the memorial to a dog named Bush, which consists of a stone plaque located on the side of the building at 1066 Wisconsin Avenue (MAP), just north of The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Towpath, and the Canal Monument. The historic building originally housed The Vigilant Fire Company.  It was built in 1844, making it the oldest extant firehouse in D.C., and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.  The building currently houses the Frye Boot Company.

Bush was of mixed breed, and dark brown in color. He ran with the engine to all fires and parades and was a general favorite with all who met him. His stone memorial marker is embedded on the side of the building. It is just above ground level between the two main doorways, and reads “Bush, the Old Fire Dog, Died of Poison, July 5th 1869, R.I.P.”

Bush suddenly took ill, and after several severe spasms he died on July 4, 1869, under suspicious circumstances.  The doctors pronounced it a case of arsenical poisoning.  It is suspected that he was probably poisoned by a rival fire company back during a time of cutthroat competition between the city’s private firefighting companies. The site of Bush’s grave is actually under the local firehouse, minus his tail, which for years was reverently kept by his bereaved owners in a glass case at the firehouse.

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