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As I clawed my way west on the traffic-jammed outer loop of the Washington Beltway, it occurred to me that I should have scheduled my tour of the C&O Canal’s Lockhouse 10 at noon or so. Not at 10 a.m., which, in this neck of the woods, is still rush hour.
It also occurred to me that I never really knew there were lockhouses along the C&O Canal. As fascinated as I’ve always been with that remarkable and ill-fated waterway, my focus had always been on the ingenious locks themselves, not the people who operated them. Or the fact that they needed to live there. In houses. With their families.
Furnishings and amenities in the six Canal Quarters lockhouses vary, as each was designed to reflect a particular time period in the canal’s history. Some have electricity, heat and running water; others do not. (C&O Canal Trust)
But of course they did, and I was on my way to see one of those houses. Not just any lockhouse, mind you, but one of six that have been refurbished and furnished to accommodate overnight guests. There to meet me was Heidi Glatfelter Schlag, director of marketing and communications for the C&O Canal Trust, which partners with the C&O Canal National Historical Park to run the Canal Quarters program.
Lockhouse 10, a half mile inside the Washington Beltway on Clara Barton Parkway, is one of the oldest of 26 lockhouses that still stand — in various states of repair — along the nearly 200-year-old canal bed, which hugs the Maryland side of the winding Potomac for 184 miles.
Each house was built to preside over one or more of the canal’s 74 locks: gravity-powered water elevators that lifted and lowered the long and narrow canal boats, 8 feet at a time, to and from the Appalachian foothills. All told, it’s a 650-foot climb from the tidewater lock just below the District of Columbia’s Georgetown riverfront to the canal’s terminus in Cumberland, MD. continue reading