A boat from a different century has returned to the water in Georgetown

If you happen to wander out to the C&O Canal National Historic Park in Georgetown, you’ll see something you haven’t seen in a while: a nice new boat in the canal.

A new canal boat was lowered into the water this weekend as part of the Georgetown Canal Plan, a project to bring one mile of the historic canal back to life.

“The whole thing came about with the old canal boat sitting in the canal for about 5 years and it was just deteriorating and getting more and more sorry looking,” said Jennifer Romm, chair of the board and president of Georgetown Heritage. “We thought we would redo the boat and realized we couldn’t do that so we said we would just build a new boat.”

But that wasn’t the only thing they had to do.

Romm said they then realized the canal needed to be fixed to hold the water necessary to float the boat and what started as a small boat repair project turned into a massive canal restoration.

So, what is the C&O Canal? The C&O stands for Chesapeake and Ohio, the trip the canal was meant to take boats on. The man-made waterway operated for nearly 100 years as a lifeline for communities along the Potomac River. Started in 1828, its heyday was in the 1860s.

“It transported coal, lumber and agricultural products,” said Christiana Hanson, chief of interpretation, education and volunteers with the C&O Canal National Historical Park. “At the time it was connecting those communities with the West.”

At that time “The West” was defined as places like Michigan and Ohio, which is where the canal was aiming.

The whole canal is 184.5 miles long and stretches from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland.

Canal boats travel through a series of locks that raise and lower water to get the boat up, or down, to the next level to continue its trip.

“It’s basically water steps for boats to travel up and down from the mountains all the way down to sea level,” said Hanson.

The new boat is tentatively named The Heritage, but that could change with a nice endowment to help continue the project.

For now, you can take a look at the 18-ton boat in the canal, and perhaps see it in motion.

“We’re going to be training staff and training the mules and we hope to have a few private events on the boat,” said Romm. “And we’ll have some interpretive programs special events the rest of the summer and into October.”

Starting in the spring of 2022, the public will be able to step back in time by stepping onboard The Heritage and feel what it would have been like to travel in that era. The Heritage will hold more than 60 passengers and take them on a mule-pulled ride through the locks of the restored section of the canal.

“There there’s just something extra special about being able to do an experience that mimics what people were doing in the past that I think really deepens learning and understanding and sparks a different kind of conversation,” said Hanson.

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Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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