Boat similar to those used on shipping route expected to come to C&O this spring

March 06, 2011|By DAVE MCMILLION |

WILLIAMSPORT — If you see a boat returning to the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal this spring in Williamsport, your eyes are not playing tricks on you.

A boat similar to ones used as work vessels or recreational boats on the old water shipping route along the Potomac River is being built for the canal as part of a plan by park officials to re-create life on the canal from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

The boat is described as a “launch,” and will seat roughly 15 to 18 people, said Curt Gaul, West District ranger for the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

The boat will be tested before it is offered for public rides. A schedule for rides has not been determined, Gaul said Sunday.

Local officials have been talking in recent years about returning boats to the C&O Canal in Williamsport to capitalize on growing numbers of visitors to the park.

Gaul said more boats are expected to be built over the next “handful of years” for the canal, although it is not clear where the additional boats will be used.

Williamsport and Mayor James G. McCleaf II said the National Park Service will charge people for the rides in Williamsport and that he expects the town to benefit from an increase in visitors to the town.

On Feb. 14, Gaul showed McCleaf and Williamsport town council members photographs of one of the boats, which is being built in Rhode Island.

The C&O Canal was a commercial shipping waterway along the Potomac River that stretched from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md. The canal, which operated from 1850 to 1924, passed through Tri-State-area communities, fueling economic development in the towns. Wooden boats measuring up to 90 feet long and having the capacity to carry up to 125 tons of material were pulled along the canal by mules walking along a towpath beside the canal.

Industries that popped up along the canal included limestone quarries and cement manufacturers, products from which were transported on the canal and were used to build canal structures, according to a Western Maryland Historical Library website.

Among the cement manufacturers was the Boteler mill below Shepherdstown, W.Va., and the Round Top Cement Mill, which was 3.3 miles above Hancock, according to the website.

Grain mills also operated around the canal, as well as wharfs and small warehouses. The most notable wharfs along the canal were likely those in Williamsport, such as the Steffey and Findlay wharf, and the Cushwa wharf near the Conococheague aqueduct, the website said.

Now the canal is a national park that is a popular place to walk, hike and ride bicycles.

Towns along the canal have been looking at ways to increase tourism in the park.

During an Aug. 5, 2009, public meeting at the Williamsport Community Building in Byron Memorial Park, C&O Canal National Historical Park officials laid out plans for restoring or rehabilitating Williamsport-area canal features like the Western Maryland Railway lift bridge, Cushwa Basin coal-storage area, Lock 44, a trolley building, the Cushwa warehouse and the Conococheague aqueduct.

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