The C&O Canal, about which I’ve written in the past, was a favorite place to visit and spend a quiet afternoon while we lived in the DC area. We had our sections of the canal, which we visited over and over, to hike and bike. The scenery was picturesque, it was quiet and conducive to relaxation, and the people we met while on the hikes all had smiles on their faces.
These particular photos were taken while we visited the 0 Mile Marker in Georgetown. It’s the place where the Canal starts to wind its way into upper Maryland. You’ll be able to see the first lockgates which allow the barges to climb upward as the elevation rises. You’ll also be able to see Georgetown from the C&O Canal, which is an interesting way to see it.
The NPS (National Park Service) organizes barge rides up the canal. They don’t go very far up the canal, but it’s far enough to give you a good idea about the unique and hard way of life on the barge, which peaked and fell during a century of use.
Not only did an enormous amount of work, performed by underpaid and overworked people, go into making the Canal, but a lot of work had to go into its upkeep and operation.
Each lock gate (there were 74 in total) required a lock operator, which meant the provision of a household at each gate, because the gates were in out of the way places.
Barges were expensive, which meant the barge owner’s life savings had to go into its purchase. Space was at a premium on them, and entire families would live in those tiny cabins you see in the photos, while hauling heavy loads of coal, grains and other stuff up and down the canal.
The barges were pulled along the canal by mules, which were chosen because of their hardy nature. They’re more manageable than jackasses but will not work themselves to exhaustion like horses; they know when to stop, which is a very good trait indeed when you have to pull a heavy barge all day.
I recorded a couple of videos while riding the barge, which have the honor of being the first videos I uploaded to YouTube, back on August 16, 2006: