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First lady goes to bat for Monocacy Aqueduct

June 16, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

Associated Press

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First lady views C&O site

DICKERSON, Md. - Calling for the restoration of the Monocacy Aqueduct on the C&O Canal, Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday she sometimes steals away from the White House for walks and bikes on the towpath.

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"I just cannot imagine not having that place to escape to," the first lady said.

Clinton thanked the organizations fighting to restore the canal and its largest aqueduct, a 516-foot water bridge that once carried canal boats over the Monocacy River along the border of Frederick and Montgomery counties.

Hillary Clinton was invited to tour the 1833 structure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which announced its annual list of the country's most endangered historic places.

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The aqueduct made this year's list, along with Chancellorsville Battlefield in Spotsylvania County, Va., where Confederate Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson was mistakenly shot by his own troops, and Cannery Row in Monterey, Calif., immortalized in John Steinbeck's novel of the same name.

With the crumbling stone aqueduct as a backdrop, Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the list is a wake-up call to all Americans.

"These places are irreplaceable and losing them would be unthinkable," he said.

Antietam National Battlefield made the list in 1988, when development pressure threatened scenic views. Since then, 4,300 acres of protective easements have been purchased, he said.

Clinton said she and the president have formed the White House Millennium Program to encourage the public and private sectors to work together to save historic documents, buildings and land.

Clinton spoke beside the aqueduct to about 175 invited guests.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, along with U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., also spoke in support of preserving the aqueduct.

Bartlett called for the restoration and rewatering of the entire canal.

That isn't the goal of the C&O Canal National Historical Park based in Sharpsburg, said Superintendent Doug Faris.

The park is concentrating on rewatering some sections to allow for boat rides as well as shoring up the aqueducts.

Repairs to the Monocacy Aqueduct were originally estimated at $20 million, but a recent engineering study said the work can be done for about $4.5 million, he said.

Although the aqueduct has stood the test of time since 1833, it needs work to keep it from collapsing in the next flood.

During the Civil War, Confederate troops tried to blow up the aqueduct.

"Nature has almost accomplished what dynamite could not," Moe said.

Floods have taken their toll. The seven arches of the aqueduct have been held together with steel girders since the Hurricane Agnes flood of 1972.

To Adam Foster, who is on the C&O Canal's citizen advisory commission, the steel harness looks like braces on a teenager's teeth.

"We want to take them off someday," he said.

Felled trees and other debris from this winter's El Nio storms have swept up against the arches. Park service workers plan to clean up the damage this summer, Faris said.

The Catoctin Aqueduct, 10 miles away from the Monocacy, collapsed after Hurricane Agnes.

"If that happens (to Monocacy), an important link with America's past could be severed," Moe said.

It took work crews four years to build the aqueduct using a little black powder and a lot of muscle. The cost was $127,900.

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