After three years of fundraising, planning, and construction, the doors to the newly-rehabilitated Swains Lockhouse will swing open to guests this summer. This historic lockhouse, located at a popular entrance point to the C&O Canal National Historical Park at Lock 21 in Potomac, Maryland, will join the C&O Canal Trust’s award-winning Canal Quarters program as the seventh lockhouse available to guests for overnight stays.
Guests can now book their overnight stay in the lockhouse at www.CanalQuarters.org.
Funded by both public and private dollars, the rehabilitation saw the circa-1830s lockhouse brought up to 21st century standards, so overnight guests can experience life as the lock keepers once lived. Construction work was completed by a contracting firm which removed the circa-2000 fixtures from the house. Workers installed a vapor barrier and insulation before updating the plumbing and electricity and adding drywall, flooring, and a new roof. An ADA-accessible bathroom and Murphy bed were installed on the first floor, making Swains the first lockhouse in the Canal Quarters program to be ADA-accessible. This is the first lockhouse that has been rehabbed to join the Canal Quarters program since 2011.
Now that construction is complete, we are filling the space with antique furnishings. Volunteer Robert Mertz, who has assisted the Trust in furnishing all of the lockhouses, has scoured antiques stores for the perfect pieces. The house will interpret 1916, the year the National Park Service was formed and the date when the C&O Canal was beginning to transition from a working canal to a recreational space. The Park Service’s interpretation rangers have developed content that will teach visitors about life in 1916, including scrapbooks and interactive exhibits. Photos and stories of the Swain family, after whom the lockhouse is named, will also be featured.
The Swain family’s history is intertwined with the canal’s. Members of the family helped to build the canal in the nineteenth century, before operating shipping boats. They then took over as lock tenders living at Lockhouse 21 until the canal closed to boat traffic in 1924. They reinvented themselves at that time, opening a concession stand to rent boats and offer tours to visitors. The family lived at the lockhouse until 2006.
On the left exterior corner of Swains Lockhouse are three high-water markers from past floods. With that in mind, we have incorporated multiple features aimed at minimizing damage to the newly-rehabbed structure during future flooding events. The house has pressure-treated subflooring and joists, and we’ve installed Click-n-Go floating flooring, which is easy to remove if necessary. All wall framing uses pressure-treated wood for moisture resistance, and perimeter walls use closed cell spray foam insulation as a vapor barrier. All new electrical components are 36” above grade to provide some protection from flooding, the rear window in the living room has been raised six inches to place it above floodwaters, and landscape grading will promote positive drainage.
When it opens at the end of June, Swains Lockhouse will join the six other lockhouses already in the Canal Quarters program, available for guests to stay overnight. Each lockhouse sleeps 8 people and is furnished to depict a different period of the canal’s history. Learn more about the Canal Quarters program here.
The rehabilitation of Swains Lockhouse was funded in part by the Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern, Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, Eastern National, Robert A. Pascal, Knight and Ann Kiplinger, The Kiplinger Foundation, A.R. Landsman Foundation, Steve and June Chaudet, Paul and Gail Chod, C&O Canal Association, and Preservation Maryland.
Learn more about the Swains Lockhouse rehabilitation and see photographs here.