Odds and Ends

Concrete waste weir at mi. 174.32

Concrete waste weir at mi. 174.32

We usually attempt to take a hike on the C&O every Sunday, and as a rule we try to mix it up a little bit–in hope of eventually doing a decent job of covering all 184.5 miles.  Today, however, Mother Nature dumped about 5″ of snow on the Martinsburg, WV area, and there were expectations for a freezing rain to follow.  Honestly, today just felt like the perfect opportunity to catch up on a couple of football games and a little bit of light reading.  I work outdoors, and the idea of slogging through the slop for seven hours tomorrow left me cold (literally) as far as getting a little bit of fresh air is concerned.  I’m bored at the moment, and this seems like the perfect opportunity to ramble and burn a few old pictures that weren’t used in previous posts.  The waste weir with the hanging ice kind of works in this situation.  Waste weirs, by the way, come in two varieties–the really nice masonry type and the generic ones made of concrete.

Bridge abutment at mi. 173.64

Bridge abutment at mi. 173.64

This bridge abutment looks pretty innocuous, so I was surprised to see that Thomas Hahn devotes a really large paragraph to it in his Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal.  The corresponding span was known as Patterson Creek Bridge, and it was burned down on May 30th, 1861.  Hahn states that a mob performed the task under the authority of Virginia troops.  It seems like a horrible waste of history, but today this stone monument marks the point where those interested can take a turn toward the river and see where Patterson Creek enters the North Branch of the Potomac (on the West Virginia side).  At the very least, this abutment is a nice piece of masonry work, and a little bit of research revealed the interesting story behind it.  Rumor has it that the Harpers Ferry Historical Society is updating Hahn’s book, and I’m definitely going to keep everybody posted if that happens. To call it invaluable is an understatement!

I have no clue what this is.

I have no clue what this is.

This is a really nice piece of work, but I really can’t tell you exactly what it is.  I can’t even tell you exactly where it is, other than to say that it’s (bear with me on this one) on the berm side of the canal prism somewhere in the vicinity of Purslane Run.  Wow, that was a mouthful! My excuse for being such a slacker is that Candee and I were doing a volunteer walk in the area on November 24th, and the temperature was 26 degrees–with high winds.  I wasn’t exactly in the mood to take my time out there… Okay, I’m a slacker.  I didn’t even bother to go to the other side of the bank to have a look!  The location is kind of ambiguous, and it’s hard to tell if it belongs to the history of the canal or that of the railroad.  Naturally, I fell back on Thomas Hahn for an answer, but he doesn’t mention it.  One clue is that the opening doesn’t seem to be going all of the way through the embankment.  I have a really good source checking into this, but I would definitely appreciate it if a canal history buff happened across this post and could give an answer.  My knowledge of most things C&O is pretty good, but you have to remember that for years I was a wandering biker who didn’t care about anything other than the next place I could buy a sandwich and a bottle of water.  Bad excuse, right?

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17 responses to this post.

  1. The bridges across the canal are an interesting study. When the Canal Company was organized it took the position that, outside the Georgetown area, it would build no bridges. Instead, a combination of ferries across the canal and road culverts under the canal would serve to transport goods and people to the Potomac River, especially at ferry sites. It was believed that the canal would operate more smoothly if not encumbered by bridges.

    This position was soon proven to be untenable. The public pressured the Company to construct bridges. Many of the bridges so built would be pivot bridges at locks, but occasionally more permanent ones, such as this one at Patterson Creek, were built. In most cases all that remain today are the abutments — a silent sentinel to a time when crossing a waterway was a far more difficult endeavor than it is today.

    Another note to this bridge: I have been unable to confirm Hahn’s account about the burning of this bridge in 1861. It is clear that a few bridges in the area were burned at this time, but some question whether this bridge over the canal was one of them. The bridge was definitely burned during a Confederate raid on Feb 2, 1864.

    Reply

  2. Posted by LevelWalker on December 10, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Jamie,

    Great information. I think I read that this was a covered bridge. I can’t back up that statement though. I really like that area, in spite of the close proximity of 51. It was getting pretty late that day, and it would have been great to see more. Hahn is a great source, but it looks like he may have been off the mark on this one.

    It’s amazing how much of the backstory of the canal is muddled. For example, some people think the Lockhouse 62 murder mystery is an urban legend. Also, I have heard opposing stories on who possesses the Kessler Tunnel–although I think it’s the State of Maryland (not the NPS). On a similar note, I talked to a C&O surveyor once, and he told me the borders of what’s park and what isn’t are up for debate in places all along the full 184.5 miles. There’s so much that isn’t cut-and-dried, but it helps to keep things interesting.

    On another note, I have always heard that the fishing is really good in Patterson Creek. There are supposed to be muskees in there. Strange, for a stream no bigger than it is.

    Reply

  3. I also read once that this was a covered bridge.

    Interesting tidbit about the park boundaries. When I wrote my piece on the tree champions, I discovered that even though the cottonwood and sycamore were only about 30-40 yards apart, one was listed as being part of the C&O Canal NHP and the other was listed as part of Dickerson Conservation Park on the Maryland tree registry. Both were between canal and river. In many places, the Canal Company purchased the land between the canal and the river. Who knows how much of the property changed hands between bankruptcy and the NPS taking over? I imagine the river has slightly altered its course in places, too, perhaps adding and subtracting several acres here and there.

    Reply

  4. Posted by LevelWalker on December 12, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Jamie,

    That’s a good point! I’m not sure about the Potomac, but I think the South Branch jumped channels back in the eighties. That has nothing to do with the C&O, except to say that it does happen. Even a little shift of the river can change the landscape significantly. The C&O is too long to learn all of its history, geography, and folklore, but so far I’m enjoying this never-to-be completed, futile attempt at finishing this website. It’s hopeless, but I kind of like it like that.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Ken on March 5, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Hi everyone….what a wonderful resource (the Canal AND this site!)
    My wife and I finally ventured up to Harpers Ferry to bike a portion of the Canal last year.
    (We live near Davidson NC). Immediately, we were hooked.
    We would like to return this year and bring our small, teardrop camper trailer with us.
    Ideally, we’d like to find a suitable campground from which to transport our bikes to the Canal for a couple day trips AND be within an easy drive to Baltimore to see an Orioles game.
    Any ideas of state parks between the Canal and Baltimore, or other nice campgrounds?
    Thanks in advance for any help!

    Reply

  6. Posted by Jamie on March 5, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Hi Ken,

    You could try the Maryland State Parks which are found here:

    http://reservations.dnr.state.md.us/welcome.do?topTabIndex=home

    I would suggest typing Frederick into the “Near” box. Frederick is about 40 miles from Baltimore and within an hour of much of the canal. Gambrill is a very pretty state park, but I haven’t camped there in decades so have no recent knowledge of the facilities.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Jamie on March 5, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    I should add that although much of the towpath is within an hour of Frederick, some of it is only a twenty minute drive.

    Reply

  8. Posted by LevelWalker on March 5, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    Jamie & Ken,

    For starters, Ken, thanks for your comment/question, and Jamie, thanks for your input–as always. It’s not pretty, but I was thinking of the camping area along the river in Brunswick. A two day-er there could lead to up-and-back rides covering everything from Monocacy to Shepherdstown, and everything is right beside the towpath. I was also thinking of Gathland State Park and wondering if there is camping there??? I think I might give that a Google and see!

    Reply

  9. Posted by LevelWalker on March 5, 2014 at 11:06 pm

    Jamie mentioned Gambrill. Greenbrier and Gathland may be possibilities too. All are a relatively short drive from canal access. I originally put the link in here–until I figured out that Jamie already put it in one of his comments. I’m a little slow today.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Ken on May 29, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Thanks so much for all the wonderful suggestions concerning my (much!) earlier question. We are finalizing our plans for an August trip; camping at Cunningham falls. We’re planning a Friday trip to tour DC by bike, parking at Fletcher’s Cove and biking in from there on the C&O and other trails. Does anyone see potential problems with this? Also, we’d like to drive up to Gettysburg and tour the battlefield, again by bike, on Saturday. We would try to start both of these trips as early in the morning as possible. Thanks in advance for any and all suggestions, warnings, clues, etc….
    Ken

    Reply

    • Posted by LevelWalker on May 29, 2014 at 12:00 pm

      Sounds great. I know getting in and out of Georgetown is tough. We had good luck taking the trail on the Virginia side to Reagan Airport. I think it’s the Mt. Vernon Trail. It’s easier to get out of town from the Virginia side, but if you’re starting early…

      Reply

  11. Posted by Jamie on May 30, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    Ken,

    If this is your first trip to Gettysburg, please don’t be like so many cyclists there and disregard the one way roads. On my last trip I was utterly amazed by the number of cyclists who paid no attention the one way signs. At several points on Confederate Avenue, I saw near accidents (both with vehicles and pedestrians) because of this.

    Okay, my spleen feels better. Now I’ll say that the new visitor center is a must stop – a tad expensive for the museum/movie/cyclorama but worth it if they haven’t been seen before.

    Some of the battlefield is only accessible after riding through town. Gettysburg isn’t a particularly large town but it can be crazy with traffic on a summer weekend. Starting early is a very good idea — traffic on the battlefield usually is light until the visitor center opens.

    You can download the park brochure which contains the auto-tour map. The auto tour is 24 miles in length — don’t know how much you want to ride, but the auto tour is laid out well and stops at all the major features of the battlefield.

    I think you will enjoy Cunningham Falls SP — very woodsy. If you have a little extra time, a side trip to Catoctin Mountain Park visitor center might be enjoyable. It is only a few miles from the campground at Cunningham. Catoctin Mountain Park is the home of the Camp David presidential retreat. In this security conscious age, even getting close to it is forbidden. When I visited 35-40 years ago, I could drive along dirt roads that bordered the fence which enclosed the compound — if one tried that now one would be escorted away at gunpoint.

    Reply

    • Posted by LevelWalker on May 30, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      Good job Jamie and Ken. I’ve been to Gettysburg twice and have no experience with Cunningham Falls. I’m just glad Jamie came along…lol!

      Reply

    • Posted by Ken on June 4, 2014 at 4:42 pm

      Thanks so very much for the info. I’ll be especially aware of the one-way roads in Gburg.
      Thanks again!
      Ken

      Reply

  12. Posted by LevelWalker on June 5, 2014 at 10:30 am

    I’m not sure about Gettysburg. I have a thing about crowds, but thanks for the comments, etc. I hope all of us helped a bit. Have fun and please tell us about your trip.

    Reply

  13. Posted by ken on August 21, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Just wanted to touch base and say thanks to everyone who supplied suggestions, help, etc. for our DC/Gettysburg biking trips. Both went better than expected (with the small exception of NOT being able to find an entrance to ‘Fletchers Boat House’…we parked adjacent to Roosevelt Island, instead).

    Thanks very much for everything!
    Ken

    Reply

    • Posted by LevelWalker on August 21, 2014 at 8:27 pm

      Ken,

      I enjoyed reading about your plans, and I’m happy that some of us could be of help. Your difficulty at the boathouse is disappointing but not terribly surprising. Sometimes I think visitors to Georgetown are better off parking at Reagan and biking over. G’town is a hard place to get around. Anyway, it’s great that you had fun!

      Reply

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