Posts Tagged ‘C&O Canal’

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The Jefferson Pier

When tourists on the grounds of The Washington Monument gaze up at the tribute to our nation’s first President, they seldom are aware of the other, smaller but similarly-shaped stone monument that is also located there on the same grounds, in the shadows of the 555-foot obelisk that towers over the National Mall.  Or if they do happen to notice it, they have no idea what it is.  It is called the Jefferson Pier, and it is only 391 feet on a northwest diagonal from the center of the Washington Monument. However, it pre-dates the Washington Monument. In fact, the original stone monument served as a marker, aiding surveyors and serving as a benchmark during construction of the monument.

On December 18th, 1804, a simple granite obelisk was erected at the intersection of lines from the front doors of The White House, known at that time as the Executive Mansion, and the U.S. Capitol Building. That intersection is etched on the top of the stone marker. The stone was located along 16th Street, almost due south of the center of the White House, due west of the center of the Capitol building, and due north of the center of the Jefferson Memorial (MAP). It was intended as part of a meridian system used to align city streets and in the development of the young nation’s new capital.  It was also the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

President Thomas Jefferson wished for the new national capital to be a new “first meridian,” the longitude (0′ 0″) from which distance and time would be measured. But the 16th Street meridian never became the official prime meridian. Instead, a meridian on 24th Street did.  Then in 1884, the world recognized the longitude of Greenwich, England as the prime meridian, and it remains so today.

To understand how the meridian stone came to be known as “The Jefferson Pier” it is necessary to first understand that the geography of the city was originally much different than it is now. Tiber Creek flowed through that area of the city, and the entire Mall area west of where the Washington Monument is now located was under water. Tiber Creek, along with several other small streams, were eventually transformed into the Washington City Canal, a system that connected the Washington Waterfront, the Capitol Building, the White House and other areas downtown with The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Towpath‘s first lock in Georgetown during the mid to late 1800’s. Boats and barges navigating the Washington City Canal via the C&O Canal and the Potomac River routinely used the meridian stone marker as an anchoring post. Although it was never officially designated so, the name used by boat captains and others stuck, and the prime meridian marker they used as an anchoring post for their boats came to be referred to as the Jefferson Pier.

The original stone marker was destroyed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1874. But the spot was recovered and a replacement marker was erected December 21, 1889. This is the stone that remains today. The stone reads, “Position of Jefferson Pier Erected Dec. 18, 1804. Recovered and Re-Erected Dec. 2, 1889. District Of Columbia.” A line has also been etched out on the face of the stone to indicate where the shoreline of the Potomac River once reached the Pier Stone.

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[Click on the thumbnail above to view the full size photo]

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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 Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath

If you’re out for a bike ride in downtown D.C. and you find yourself wanting to get away from the frenetic activity of the city, one of the quickest  ways to escape is to head over to the Georgetown neighborhood where the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O ) Canal and Towpath begins (MAP).  Then, use the towpath to ride west.

A towpath is a road or trail on the bank of a canal, river, or other inland waterway that allows a land vehicle, mules or horses, or a team of human pullers to tow a boat, often a barge.  This mode of transport was once commonplace in areas where sailing was impossible or impractical due to rapid currents, obstructions like tunnels and bridges, or unfavorable winds.  After the Industrial Revolution, towing became obsolete when engines were fitted on boats and when railway transportation superseded the slow towing method.  Since then, many towpaths, like the one along the C&O Canal, have been converted to multi-use recreatonal trails.

The C&O Canal and towpath is located along the northern bank of the Potomac River, and runs 184.5 miles starting in D.C. and ending in Cumberland, Maryland.  The canal was built between beginning in 1828, and was a lifeline for communities along the Potomac River.  It operated sporadically between floods, until it became obsolete in 1924, after which it was abandoned.  Today, much of the canal has been drained of water and reclaimed by the forest.  However, the entire towpath remains.

Three decades after closing down, in 1954, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas organized an eight day hike up the canal’s towpath in an attempt to draw attention to its potential as a recreational area, and to save it from being converted to a parkway, as was being planned by Congress at that time.  His efforts succeeded and the canal and towpath were saved from development, eventually to become the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.  The park was established as a National Monument in 1961 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in order to preserve the neglected remains of the canal along with many of the original canal structures.  Further ensuring preservation efforts, portions of the towpath are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The C&O Canal National Historical Park now receives more than three million recreation visits annually, and is a favorite of bicyclists like me, as well as hikers, joggers, birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, and others.

Most recently, in November of 2013, the C&O Canal Towpath was designated as the first section of U.S. Bicycle Route 50, which is part of the U.S. Bicycle Route System.  The system is a developing network of interstate long-distance cycling routes in the U.S.  And with the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage Trail from western Pennsylvania to Cumberland, it is now possible to ride a continuous 339 non-motorized vehicle-free miles from D.C. all the way to Point State Park in Pittsburgh.

So I caution you to be careful when you’re in D.C. and decide to go for a ride on the C&O Canal Towpath.  It is such an enjoyable and peaceful environment for riding that, if you’re not careful and paying attention, you may end up finding yourself in Pittsburgh.

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[Click on the photos 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.

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