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Stepping back in time along the C&O Canal

Do you believe in time travel? Over the coming months, a two-story stone home in Potomac, MD will transported back to the early 1900s.  For those who choose to do so, an overnight stay in this home will be reminiscent of life along a working, viable C&O Canal. But why this particular house? And how will this transformation happen?

Life at Lock 21

For more than 100 years, you could expect to find the Swain family—generation after generation—living in a simple, two-story lockhouse on the C&O Canal. Beginning in 1909, the Swains operated and maintained Lock No. 21—diligently lifting and lowering 90-foot long canal boats on their journeys between Georgetown and Cumberland. After the Canal had outlived its usefulness, the lockhouse stayed in the family. The home’s location on the Canal and the Potomac River served it well. For years, the Swains rented boats and sold snacks to outdoor enthusiasts and the lockhouse became a popular gathering place. But time marches on, and in 2006 the Swain family vacated the home, which they had been renting from the National Park Service.

A triumphant return

The Swain home is the 7th lockhouse along the C&O Canal that will be completely restored as part of the C&O Canal Trust’s Canal Quarters program. The program provides lodging in original Canal lockhouses, and the authentic experience of being there at different periods when the Canal was in operation. We have not quite settled on the time period that Swains Lockhouse will depict, but we will announce it soon.

While a time machine would surely come in handy, Swains Lockhouse will be transformed by people—historians, designers, donors, contractors, volunteers and ultimately the Canal Quarters guests themselves who will bring the home back to life during their stays.

Restoring the lockhouse will be challenging. The small home has been ravaged by weather, numerous Potomac River floods, and the wear and tear of its former occupants, sometime numbering 12 at a time. The restoration requires a sensitivity to the time period, modern building codes and access, and budget. A 1890s addition to the home will also be restored as a C&O Canal Trust “Canal Classrooms” learning space for visiting school groups.

Witness the transformation

The Swains Lockhouse restoration team, led by the National Park Service and the C&O Canal Trust, is already at work. Through this blog series, we invite you to witness the transformation of this home. Check back for new stories and photos every week as the project continues. We’ll touch on a wide variety of topics relating to the project, from the history of the home and the Swain family to specific construction phases and unique restoration challenges.

When the Swain lockhouse is complete, we hope you’ll gain an appreciation for the scope of this project and the American heritage it is helping to preserve. We also hope you’ll discover a renewed interest for visiting the lockhouse in person.  If you have questions or comments about any of the posts, please email us at [email protected].

Next Time

Our next blog post will feature photos of the demolition of the interior of Swains Lockhouse!

Learn More

Visit our Swains Lockhouse Main Page to learn more about this project and to read all of our blog posts.

Learn More About Saving Swains Lockhouse