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Lock 44 restored

August 23, 2000

Lock 44 restored



By DAN KULIN / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

Lock 44A section of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in Williamsport will get new life when water beings flowing to the restored Lock 44 Saturday morning.

Only part of that section will be rewatered initially because lock restoration probably won't be completed until September.

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Even a partial rewatering is exciting for Lula Brant Harsh, who grew up in the adjacent lock house.

"This is really great. It brings back a lot of memories. It'll look more real when they get the arms on (the gates) and then the water," Harsh said Wednesday as she watched National Park Service crews lower the second two-ton wooden gate into the upper portion of the lock.

Harsh's family lived in the lock house from 1915 to 1961. The canal closed in 1924.

Harsh remembers being awakened in the night by canal boat captains wanting to get through the locks and "having to help my mother push open the gates."

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"I learned to swim in the canal, of course that was our swimming pool, and we had canoes and did some canoeing," Harsh said.

For the past three or four years Harsh and her husband of 63 years, 91-year-old Beckley Harsh, have gone every day to check on the progress of the lock restoration. Often they wouldn't even get out of the car.

They watched as Park Service crews removed stones from the lock, numbered the stones and later replaced them in the restored lock walls.

"I think it's just important to do this It's history," she said. "When you think about it, lots of children have never seen a working lock."

Beckley Harsh called the restoration project "wonderful" and predicted Lock 44 will become a popular attraction that will rival nearby Cushwa Basin.

"It will bring a lot of tourists. It will be a definite tourist attraction," Lock 44 neighbor Vicki Cressell, 29, said.

Restoration of the lock began four years ago.

Saturday's partial rewatering of the lock is part of Williamsport's C&O Canal Days Festival.

The gates on the lower part of the lock are expected to be installed in the next two weeks, C&O Canal National Historical Park Superintendent Doug Faris said Wednesday.

After that, the dike separating the lock from the rewatered section of the canal will be removed and the lock will once again be connected by water to the Cushwa Basin less than a mile away.

"By September this lock will be operational," Faris said.

"We're trying to illustrate how important canal transportation was to the development of our country. And to ensure people have the opportunity to learn about the history of the canal and the nation's history," Faris said.

The canal rewatering project in Williamsport began seven years ago at Cushwa Basin.

Faris said that since 1992 the federal government has spent $1.4 million on the C&O Canal in Williamsport, including more than $400,000 on the Lock 44 restoration project.

He said the plan is to restore and rewater the Conococheague Creek aqueduct in the next three to five years. That project could cost $3.5 million, he said.

About 32 miles of the 184.5-mile-long canal, which runs from Cumberland in Western Maryland to Georgetown in Washington, D.C., have been rewatered. About 22 miles of the watered stretch is near Georgetown.

Faris said there are no plans to rewater the entire canal because doing so would be "so costly and unrealistic. Rewatering portions of the canal will present a picture of what the canal was like, he said.

Lock 44 will be the third canal lock to be restored. The other two are closer to Washington, D.C., Faris said.

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