The scenic Chesapeake
and Ohio Canal runs 185 miles from Cumberland, Maryland through
Harper's Ferry to Georgetown at Washington, D.C....it was built between
1828 and 1850. Its towpath, used today by hikers and joggers, was once
the path by which mules would tow barges laden with coal from West
Virginia mines to heat the homes and power the industry of a young
nation during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The families that
lived on the barges were a hearty lot...they had to be, for the work
was difficult and the hours long. It would take loaded barges a week to
make the run to Georgetown, through fair weather and foul, stopping at
night to give the mules and the crew a few hours of rest before the
next day's journey. Finally arriving at Georgetown, they would tie up
alongside the towpath just outside of town (near Georgetown University)
and wait sometimes two or three days for their orders to unload. Handed
down from one generation to the next, working the freight barges was a
way of life from a simpler time when things moved at a slower pace.
Eventually, competition from the railroads, and later the trucking
industry, put an end to the canal days on the C&O, with the last
barges calling at Georgetown in 1924. Today, the C&O Canal remains
for us to enjoy, rescued from assured oblivion by Justice William 0.
Douglas and the Department of the Interior. Its memories are kept alive
by the C&O Canal Association, promoting the preservation of this, a
beautiful and unique national treasure.