The C&O Canal was one of the nation’s most abitious industrial engineering experiments of the mid-1800’s, overcoming a 605-foot elevation change to provide a flatwater route 185 miles inland to the coalfields of the Allegheny Mountains. Masons built stone dams, culverts, embarkments, abutments, spillways, tunnels, acqueducts, a series of locks, and lined the canal prism with dry stone retaining walls.
At Harpers Ferry, the canal, roadway, and newly built railroad, all shared the same narrow space where the Potoma and Shenandoah Rivers cut through the Blue Ridge. After 150 years, the 1996 floodwaters, channeled forcefully through this passage, damaged the old canal walls. Downstream, at Washington, large tree roots had grown through the drystone masonry, and heavily industrial warehouses, built too close to the canal, damaged the canal walls there. Park officials, emphasizing the Park Service’s philosophy of authentic preservation, partnered with the Dry Stone Conservancy to repair two damaged canal sections. This video is the story of that procedure.