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Lock 26

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  • September 03, 2014

Woods Lock - A Quiet Spot

By Ranger Geoff

When I first learned that I was supposed to write about Lock 26, also known as Woods Lock, I must admit that my reaction was, "Where? Why? What happened there?" Nearby Monocacy Aqueduct and Edwards Ferry were replete with Civil War anecdotes, and boasted a nicely restored lockhouse and aqueduct to admire and photograph. "You mean Lockhouse 26 is not even standing anymore?" I thought perhaps there had been a mistake.

On a cool, rainy, late summer day, I made my way out to Lock 26, to take the requisite photos - it was so obscure a site, I could not find any on the park's database. The only sound was the soft rush of rain on leaves and the spattering of droplets when a breeze rustled the overhanging limbs. I was quite alone.

I ended up spending more time there than I'd expected. There is quite a sense of place there. I'm coming more and more to realize that the beauty of the towpath is that for every aqueduct, tunnel, or Canal Town, there are ten places like Lock 26, where the weather and the season collude with the landscape to create their own mood, completely unrepeatable and private.

Lock 26 has aged gracefully. It is currently filled in, to keep its empty walls from collapsing inwards in a pile of stones. The stone foundation of its house has been capped with concrete, to keep its footprint from being completely lost to undergrowth. The discerning eye can pick out where the lock had once been lengthened to accommodate two boats, stem to stern, during a fleeting decade of prosperity on the canal, after the Civil War. Troops came and went during those four years, but did not stay long. Only time kept marching past.

After a few minutes, as the rain came and went, and came again, I began to feel not quite so alone. A giant maple tree, looking like something from J.R.R. Tolkein's Middle Earth, or the Brothers Grimm, stood the whole time, sheltering me, but completely aloof to my presence. Romantic fantasies aside, it did occur to me that this one tree had very possibly seen it all, inasmuch as a tree can see. It appears, smaller but still substantial, in a 1959 photo, when the wooden lockhouse still stood, the flames that would consume it still a decade to come. It certainly had sheltered canallers and mules, and possibly passing rebel cavalry as well. I have heard of such "witness trees" before, on battlefields and in castle courtyards, but this was a silent unheralded witness, and it did not seem inclined to let me in on its secrets.

I left as the sun began to burn through the clouds, glad in a way to have left before the scene changed. I confess I feel a small sense of guilt at having revealed my witness' whereabouts to you, but then there are plenty more for you to find on your own.