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C&O Canal exhibit 'just the beginning'

April 19, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WILLIAMSPORT - Several elected officials were optimistic Friday that a new exhibit at the Cushwa Basin designed to teach children about the C&O Canal will be the catalyst for future improvements at the site.

"This is just the beginning," Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf II said during a reception for "Building America's Canals," which opened Thursday in the old Trolley Barn building.

The exhibit, organized by the National Canal Museum, features tables where children can learn how to build a canal, construct an aqueduct, design and operate lift locks, build suspension bridges and operate cranes used to load and unload canal boats.

But it also marks the first time the entire Trolley Barn building has been opened to the general public since it was built in 1895, according to park officials at the event.

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That, they said, is a reason to celebrate.

"This is nothing short of a renaissance of the C&O Canal in Washington County," said Kevin Brandt, superintendent of C&O Canal National Historical Park. "Nowhere else on the canal do you have the diversity of structures that you do in Williamsport."

U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., listed some of those features in his speech, including the turning basin, aqueduct, lift locks, lockman's house and carriage bridge.

"There probably isn't another half-mile of the canal with more historic features," Bartlett said.

Bartlett, McCleaf and state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said they would like to see the canal filled again with water, and envisioned canal boats and other attractions coming to Williamsport.

McCleaf said those improvements are important to efforts to revitalize the old canal town.

"You can tell the history of Williamsport through the canal," McCleaf said. "And our past is going to save our town."

The exhibit was brought to Williamsport with donations from local businesses and governments and efforts from the C&O Canal Trust, a nonprofit fundraising group created last year to raise money for the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

Under an agreement with Washington County Public Schools, every fourth-grader in Washington County will visit the exhibit before it closes Oct. 12.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said it will give children hands-on experience in learning about their local history.

"Studying the canal, it isn't like studying the French Revolution," Morgan said. "You can touch it, you can feel it, you can know about it."

The exhibit will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Oct. 12. Admission is free.

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