Watching the Canal Go By
By Ranger Hollie
Nestled along the towpath at milepost 123 in Hancock, Maryland is the charming Bowles House. When arriving at the historic home, I quickly forget the nearby hustle and bustle of I-70 and feel as though I have taken a step back in time to a place where I can truly "unplug" from everyday life, a place where my smartphone is as forgotten as the stretch of towpath surrounding me. I enjoy sitting on a rocking chair on the front porch and gazing up the canal toward Lock 52 and the Great Tonoloway Aqueduct. I expect to hear the rhythmic plodding of mule shoes on the dirt towpath and the sounds of canawlers blowing their horns and calling out to one another.
The Bowles House has witnessed early settlement on undeveloped land, a race west between rail and canal, and a period of transition as advancements in transportation eased the country into the twentieth century, making life along the towpath obsolete. First traced to Lord Baltimore of England, the parcel of land known as "Sarah's Fancy" was transferred to the Yates family around 1775. William Yates developed the land and built the original one-story home on a hill overlooking the Potomac River in 1785. The Yates family lived there during construction of the C&O Canal which passed through Hancock in 1839. In 1875, during the peak of C&O Canal operations, the Bowles family acquired the property and remained occupants for nearly four decades. In 1905 the house and surrounding property were purchased by the Little family who resided in the home until the National Park Service acquired the land in 1960's; they were the last to witness canal operations. Today the Bowles House is the park's Hancock Visitor Center.
Today I am lured to the Bowles House because it provides a place of escape. The slow-paced atmosphere surrounds me in this tranquil rest. As I sit on the porch my thoughts turn to the words of Justice William O. Douglas. "It is a refuge, a place of retreat, a long stretch of quiet and peace."