“From inside our lockhouse, I could hear the children laughing out by the firepit—a corny joke from their father, no doubt. As the last glow of sun shimmered off the Canal upstream, the low light of the lantern began to illuminate the wood floor planks, simple furnishings, and a pitcher of cider still sitting on the table from dinner. Life is good here.”
A quote from the 1870s? Could be. And it could be from last October—from a guest and her family enjoying a rehabilitated lockhouse in the C&O Canal Trust Canal Quarters program.
The rehabilitation of Swains Lockhouse will be the seventh home along the Canal inviting guests to enjoy these authentic lockhouse experiences. Started in 2007 by the C&O Canal Trust and the National Park Service, the program was designed specifically to rehabilitate historic lockhouses in the C&O Canal National Historical Park and provide distinctive interpretive opportunities for park visitors.
More than learning about Canal life—living it!
Becky Curtis is the Director of Programs and Partnerships for the C&O Canal Trust and manages the Canal Quarters program. “There are so many rich stories to tell that simply can’t be told all at once at a park visitor center – the lockhouses allow visitors to take a deeper dive into the many facets of the Canal’s history.”
Each Canal Quarter lockhouse has been furnished with furniture and accessories from a different time period, and each tells a different story about the development of the C&O Canal.
“We wanted to make each lockhouse in the program different, so that the experience builds with each new lockhouse you visit,” said Curtis. “Also, we have a lot of stories that are truly ‘place-based,’ so when we have a lockhouse telling the story at or near the actual site where it happened – that is a powerful experience!”
Each of the six lockhouses can accommodate up to eight people, for up to three nights. Because they have been rehabilitated to specific historic time periods, some have no heat or air conditioning and require outside jaunts to the bathroom. You can browse each lockhouse and their amenities here.
Swains: A welcome addition, and more to come!
Curtis is especially excited about the opening of Swains Lockhouse. It’s larger than the typical lockhouse (thanks in part to an 1890 addition), will be handicapped accessible, and its location is outstanding—just upstream from Great Falls, easily accessible from River Road in Potomac, MD, and with the best sunset views overlooking the Potomac.
“Ultimately, we want the program to be fully functional as a hut-to-hut experience for trips along the full length of the C&O Canal,” said Curtis. “This would mean opening a Canal Quarters lockhouse at intervals reasonably distanced for biking all along the towpath’s length from Georgetown all the way to Cumberland. We have a lot of historic buildings out there, and a lot of stories still untold!”
Swains Lockhouse has its own fascinating story to tell. Until 2006, it was the last continuously occupied lockhouse on the Canal. Next week, you’ll find out why Swains was chosen to be the seventh Canal Quarters rehab.