Many people are familiar with the C&O Canal’s connection to the Judicial Branch because of Justice Douglas, but what about the Executive Branch? In honor of Presidents’ Day, we ask how our Presidents have supported the C&O Canal and how they themselves have benefited from the canal.
With the White House only a 10-minute walk from the Park, various Presidents have enjoyed the Canal and the Potomac River over the years for both its recreational opportunities and its tranquility.
George Washington (1789-1797)
While George Washington never directly interacted with the C&O Canal, he had a fondness for the Potomac River. He explored the Potomac in depth and developed a love for the river. Washington founded the Patowmack Company but his plans to use the river as a transportation system were put on hold by the Revolutionary War, which placed him directly in the limelight of the newly-founded country. When the Patowmack Company closed, its ownership transferred to the C&O Canal Company, which constructed the canal we know today.
John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
Adams was known as an avid swimmer and enjoyed morning swims in the Potomac. Adams initiated the construction of the C&O Canal. He had the idea of creating a canal that would run parallel to the Potomac River to avoid the water level issues the Patowmack Company was having. In July 1828, Adams broke ground north of Georgetown for the C&O Canal and gave a famous speech comparing the new canal to the pyramids of Egypt.
Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897)
Cleveland would get away from the stresses of the White House and Washington by taking fishing trips to Lock 22. He enjoyed fishing for bass and would stay at the Pennyfield Inn during these trips.
The Pennyfield Inn slowly fell apart over the years and was torn down by the National Park Service in 2009. The lockhouse still stands and is a part of the Canal Quarters program. A sign outside commemorates the Pennyfield Inn.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed hiking around the banks of the Potomac and would take advisors along with him. This group of hikers became known as Roosevelt’s “Tennis Cabinet.”
Roosevelt is known for his love of conservation. He wanted to protect national forests for future generations, and many national parks are dedicated to his memory. President Roosevelt was instrumental in establishing many parks, but one of his more famous efforts involved the addition of land to Yosemite, one of our country’s most famous parks. He also dedicated the Grand Canyon as a National Monument in the early 1900s, and it was later converted into a National Park.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
In 1934, Eleanor Roosevelt received a suggestion that the government should develop the canal for recreational purposes. She shared the idea with the president, who saw the canal’s potential. FDR knew the canal’s repair and restoration would generate employment and tried to expedite the purchase from the B&O Railroad. The canal was successfully transferred in September 1938.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
In January 1961, President Eisenhower proclaimed the C&O Canal land a national monument.
Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park legislation passed both houses of Congress, and President Nixon signed it into law in January 1971.
George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
President H W Bush was an avid jogger and was seen running on the towpath during his time as Vice President under President Reagan.
Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
On Earth Day 1996, President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore helped volunteers remove brush and other debris from the Canal towpath after a flood and blizzard did significant damage to the towpath.
Barack Obama (2009-2017)
In 2015 President Obama announced his Every Kid in a Park initiative issuing every 4th grader and their family’s free admission to all of America’s National Parks for a year. This initiative benefits many 4th graders in the surrounding areas who get to visit the C&O Canal National Historical Park fee free.
The C&O Canal and surrounding areas have allowed the Presidents to escape from Washington and enjoy the recreation and tranquility provided by the Park, just as millions of visitor do every year.