Sunday, January 27, 2013

184.5 Miles of History, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Lock House

Traveling down the interstate, I find it hard to imagine an America without roads and highways. You can drive from the east coast to the west coast along one continuous high-speed route. This was hardly the case back in 1828, when ground was broken for the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. With the goal of driving western expansion and moving goods from east to west, this monumental transportation project hoped to connect the Chesapeake Bay with the Ohio River. Today, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park shares the legacy of transportation in the growth of our nation.

Canal Boat
Competing with the innovative new form of steam powered transportation, the C & O Canal went head to head with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. As digging commenced along the northern banks of the Potomac River, construction of new railroad tracks carried on almost parallel to the canal.  Eventually, the canal would loose this battle and fall well short of its goal of reaching the Ohio River. But despite this short fall, the canal operated successfully for nearly one hundred years, moving people and cargo from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland. 

Canal Aquaduct
The C & O Canal could not keep up with the new technological advances in transportation. The first competitor, the railroads, was later replaced with widespread use of automobiles. The complex system of locks, lock houses, aqueducts, and flood gates were no match for less labor-intensive forms of transportation. The C & O canal's short falls met its match when extensive flood damage closed the canal in 1924. Despite its years of faithful service, plans were soon underway to remove the canal and pave a highway over this transportation legacy. 

Turning Basin

Mule Statue Cumberland, Maryland

Advocates would emerge to fight for the canal and its iconic towpath, the flat trail, used by mules to tow barges up the canal. First declared a National Monument in 1961 and then dedicated as a National Park in 1971, the C & O Canal National Historical Park protects this unique transportation legacy for future generations. 

One can’t help but wonder, will people will be fighting to save historic interstates and highways 100 years from now? 


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