Historic Potomac landmark Swains Lockhouse to open to the public

For the first time in its history, Potomac landmark Swains Lockhouse will be open to the public for overnight stays.

Each lockhouse in the Canal Quarters program is decorated to reflect a particular time period, and [Swains] lockhouse is furnished in the 1916 time period, said Heidi Schlag, director of marketing and communications for the C&O Canal Trust, the nonprofit that supports preservation efforts at the C&O National Historical Park.

The Swain family’s connection to the site stretches back to the 1800s and the construction of the canal, Schlag explained. The lockhouse, situated along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, was kept in the family until 2006.

Bert Swain, who lived in the lockhouse from the time he was born in 1957 until 1980, has vivid memories of dinners on the lawn and family gatherings that filled the small stone home at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Swain worked closely with the C&O Canal Trust and the National Park Service as the lockhouse was renovated, providing scrapbook materials, family photos and even verifying that one of the doors in an upstairs room was original to the home.

For the first time in its history, Potomac landmark Swains Lockhouse, pictured here, will be open to the public for overnight stays. (Photo credit Don Libes) (Courtesy Don Libes)
Swain said it was always his family's hope that the home could be restored and preserved for the public, but when he saw the result of the efforts of the C&O Canal Trust, he was blown away. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Swain said it was always his family’s hope that the home could be restored and preserved for the public, but when he saw the result of the efforts of the C&O Canal Trust, he was blown away. (WTOP/Kate Ryan) (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Bert Swain was able to tell the renovators that this door was original to the home. The ”handle” carved out above the doorknob was a detail he remembered. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Bert Swain was able to tell the renovators that this door was original to the home. The “handle” carved out above the doorknob was a detail he remembered. (WTOP/Kate Ryan) (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Trundle beds in the upstairs room in Swains Lockhouse. The Lockhouse can sleep up to 8 people. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Trundle beds in the upstairs room in Swains Lockhouse. The Lockhouse can sleep up to eight people. (WTOP/ Kate Ryan) (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
The view from one of the bedrooms in Swains Lockhouse. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
The view from one of the bedrooms in Swains Lockhouse. (WTOP/Kate Ryan) (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Angled doors are a feature of the Swains Lockhouse. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Angled doors are a feature of the Swains Lockhouse. (WTOP/Kate Ryan) (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Here you can see that while some of the details on the oven look old fashioned—it’s actually a modern electric range. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Here you can see that while some of the details on the oven look old fashioned — it’s actually a modern electric range. (WTOP/Kate Ryan) (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Stay here overnight and you’ll be hand-washing dishes. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Stay here overnight and you’ll be hand-washing dishes. (WTOP/Kate Ryan) (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Another detail of the oven in the Lockhouse. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Another detail of the oven in the Lockhouse. (WTOP/Kate Ryan) (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
The scissors used at the ribbon cutting of the opening of Swains Lockhouse on the C&O Canal in Potomac. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
The scissors used at the ribbon cutting of the opening of Swains Lockhouse on the C&O Canal in Potomac. (WTOP/Kate Ryan) (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
This could be your view in the morning while staying at the Swains Lockhouse. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
This could be your view in the morning while staying at the Swains Lockhouse. (WTOP/Kate Ryan) (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
(1/11)
Swain said it was always his family's hope that the home could be restored and preserved for the public, but when he saw the result of the efforts of the C&O Canal Trust, he was blown away. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Bert Swain was able to tell the renovators that this door was original to the home. The ”handle” carved out above the doorknob was a detail he remembered. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Trundle beds in the upstairs room in Swains Lockhouse. The Lockhouse can sleep up to 8 people. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
The view from one of the bedrooms in Swains Lockhouse. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Angled doors are a feature of the Swains Lockhouse. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Here you can see that while some of the details on the oven look old fashioned—it’s actually a modern electric range. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Stay here overnight and you’ll be hand-washing dishes. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Another detail of the oven in the Lockhouse. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
The scissors used at the ribbon cutting of the opening of Swains Lockhouse on the C&O Canal in Potomac. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
This could be your view in the morning while staying at the Swains Lockhouse. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Swain said while the lockhouse was in his family’s possession, they worked to preserve it as much as possible. “Over my lifetime, I had seen so many structures along the canal crumble into such disrepair that couldn’t be put back.”

Swain said it was always his family’s hope that the home could be restored and preserved for the public, but when he saw the result of the efforts of the C&O Canal Trust, he was floored.

“What has been done is miles beyond what we even envisioned 13, 14 years ago,” Swain said.

As he toured the refurbished home, Swain said it took him back to his childhood. The style of dining room tables, the beds, were all reminiscent of the family furniture that he grew up with.

Schlag recalled Swain telling a story of how bathing took place in the kitchen. “They didn’t have running water when he was young, so they would heat up water, put it in a tub. And there’s a great picture of him at about one, sitting in his tub, having a bath here in the kitchen.”

For today’s visitors — who can now stay up to three nights in the lockhouse — there are modern conveniences, such as air conditioning, heat and, of course, running water.

But there are nods to the past. Schlag noted that while the electric stove looks vintage — it has a black front that appears to be cast iron at first glance — it’s actually a modern stove with old-time design elements.

“To me, the history of Swains Lockhouse is really the history of America,” said Kevin Brandt, superintendent of the C&O National Historical Park.

Brandt explained that while many people think of history in terms of monuments and memorials, “It’s really been the ordinary Americans who made this country what it is today.”

He said the canal was critical to the growth and development of a young nation. “It was the Beltway and the I-270 of its day,” with shipments of coal and produce heading down to the nation’s capital.

To learn about how you can enjoy an overnight stay, visit the C&O Canal Trust’s website.

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