Under a clear sky on October 15, 2011, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held to officially reopen the Catoctin Creek aqueduct on the C&O Canal in southern Frederick County, MD.* For the first time in nearly forty years, pedestrians and cyclists were able to cross the wide rural creek in style on the stone aqueduct that was once a jewel among the many structures built to service the 184 mile canal in its heyday. A lone mule was led across the aqueduct as a tribute to a past that would have been lost to the ravages of nature and time were it not for the passion and dedication of local history enthusiasts.
Following the course of the river, the builders of the C&O canal needed to cross many of the streams and rivers that feed the Potomac. A small creek could be fed through a stone tunnel, or culvert, under the canal, but a wide span such as at the Monocacy River and Catoctin Creek required an aqueduct to bridge the gully. The aqueduct at Catoctin carried canal boats across a creek that trickles into the Potomac for most of the year, but can become a raging torrent in the spring rains. Construction of the original aqueduct began in 1832 amid competition for workers from the railroad and a cholera outbreak that further limited the available workforce. Despite the obstacles, the three arched stone waterway was completed the following year in an era without powered machinery. Foreshadowing the future demise of the canal as a profitable transportation method, much of the Patapsco granite used to build the aqueduct was carried in by train on the B&O railroad that parallels the canal through this section. During the Civil War, the canal was a vital link between the fleet of steam ships in Washington and the coal coming down from the mountains, and thus was the target of numerous Confederate raids. Numerous floods along the Potomac and its tributaries took a toll on the canal, and when an immense flood in 1924 caused the canal to close, the costly repairs needed for the money losing transportation made the closure permanent.
The Catoctin Creek aqueduct’s design was a beauty to behold, with a large, oval center arch that was flanked by two smaller round arches. The boatmen of the canal also called the the “crooked” aqueduct because of the sharp turn in the canal on the north side of the creek that had to be navigated in order to enter it. Unfortunately, the aqueduct’s unique construction that made it so beautiful was also its undoing, and after years of deterioration and sagging in the center arch, it collapsed in October 1973. A steel truss “Baily” bridge was then installed to serve hikers and bikers for the next thirty eight years until the aqueduct was reopened again in September of this year.
The reconstruction of the Catoctin Creek aqueduct was spearheaded in 2006 by local history enthusiasts George Lewis and Pepper Scotto, who raised awareness of the aqueduct and coordinated efforts by local preservation societies such as the Catoctin Aqueduct Restoration Fund, Inc., the C&O Canal Trust and The Community Foundation of Frederick County. A hefty 3.9 million grant from the Department of the Interior through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was the keystone that the reconstruction needed to proceed. Many volunteers lent a hand in recovering the fallen stones, and a Maryland business, Corman Construction of Annapolis Junction, was contracted to undertake the major rebuilding work. This video of slides records the progress of the rebuilding effort, from recovering the stones out of the creek through reconstruction of the arches and the placement of the last stone.
The walk to the aqueduct from the Lock 29 parking lot at Lander Rd. This is a fairly easy 1/2 mile stroll along the towpath that the whole family can enjoy.
* Originally published on 11/22/2011 at Want2Dish Frederick.