In the latter part of the 18th century, Brunswick, Md. was known as Berlin, and it kept that name as the C&O Canal was completed there in 1834. Berlin was an important river crossing for the Union army following the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, so lots of history was made in the area before the town’s name was changed to Brunswick in 1890. The change corresponded with a huge growth in population on the heels of the building of the railroad yard. A quick look at the left side of the mural shows a canal boat and train heading west along the Potomac, and today–for different reasons–both the railroad and C&O Canal NHP are as important to the town as ever.
As today’s canal towns go, Brunswick has all of the usual amenities. As one leaves the railroad yard and heads into town, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are available at Mommer’s Diner (I love the name, and the food is pretty good, too). From there, a left turn on West Potomac Street leads to a Trek bike shop, the C&O Canal Visitor Center, the Brunswick Railroad Museum, and Beans in the Belfry. This is significant for hikers and bikers because all of this is available within .3 miles of the towpath.
The picture above shows three engines linked together, and behind them there were several hundred yards of railroad cars. As we headed to Weverton, there wasn’t much of the riverfront scenery that one encounters below Harpers Ferry. Aside from the lockhouse at the end of our walk, there wasn’t much in the way of visible canal structures either. However, this three mile stretch is a great place to look at the culverts that pass under the canal and towpath.
When the C&O Canal encountered a large stream, the canal’s waters were carried over top of it via an aqueduct. There are only eleven such structures between Georgetown and Cumberland. However, smaller streams traveled under the canal through culverts, and there are over 150 of them along the way. Most of them aren’t visible from a bicycle, so I can’t say that I really cared much about them one way or another. It wasn’t until I looked at C&O Canal Association member Steve Dean’s culvert photos that I developed an interest in them.
I have long-since learned that the C&O’s culverts aren’t of the cookie cutter variety. They are as individual as the size of the stream going through them and the crews that did the masonry work. They come in big, small, spartan, and artsy and were generally built from the materials closest at hand.
As we walked on, I was surprised to see the amount of cleanup that the maintenance crew has done lately. I’m not sure whether or not to blame the downed trees on Hurricane Sandy, but all were sawed and safely out of reach of the towpath. This particular tree was roughly 14′ in diameter–at least according to our rough measurement.
The protocol the NPS follows for cleaning up fallen trees is to leave the wood either along the river side of the towpath or in the canal prism. From there, it’s up to Mother Nature to take care of business. In 2011, we encountered a large path of destruction above Little Orleans, and countless trees were strewn in every direction. Surprisingly, today, it’s hard to tell that anything ever happened. I imagine a hike between Brunswick and Weverton in a year or two would show the same results–little sign of the recent work done. Nature has a way of taking care of things.