It’s September when, as the song goes, “the days grow shorter.” But after a scorcher of a summer, there’s still time to do the things that you meant to do but didn’t.
“Everyone loves the C&O Canal,” said Dan Spedden, president of Visit Hagerstown.
With the recent completion of the restoration and re-watering of the scenic (and historic) three-arched stone aqueduct spanning the Conococheague Creek, there are more reasons than ever to visit Williamsport, Md.
Spedden noted that the Cushwa Basin area of the Chesapeake & Ohio National Historical Park is “the number one tourism attraction in Washington County.” Here, within a half-mile stretch, visitors can experience the workings of the canal, thanks to the presence of a lock, a lift gate and a restored warehouse, now the site of a welcoming visitor’s center.
Additionally, the lock keeper’s wooden frame house provides a look into 19th-century family life; the sounding of a brass horn onboard canal boats once alerted the lock keeper, working from home but on duty 24/7, to open the gate. Other historic features include a turning basin (one of the few places on the canal where a boat could turn around) and a railroad lift bridge that, back in the day, raised train tracks, permitting boats to pass underneath.
Constructed between 1828 and 1850, the C&O Canal was a commercial operation, owned and funded by stockholders. A flood in 1924 destroyed the canal, and operations ceased. But in 1971, the otherwise lost treasure was placed in the care of the National Park Service. Recent restorations (including work on the aqueduct) were made thanks to a partnership between the park service and the state of Maryland. Looking ahead, as the 50th anniversary of the property as a national park draws near, Washington County will host the 2021 World Canal Conference.
Seventy-two of the 184.5 miles of the canal are located in Washington County. Williamsport is not only the midway point (the canal extends from Georgetown to Cumberland), but also “the jewel in the necklace,” in Spedden’s words. He stressed the “recreational, cultural and historic appeal” of the area (“the canal is a busy spot”). Hike or bike the recreational trail along the canal, or enjoy a leisurely boat ride.
Located off Interstate 81, Williamsport is approximately 70 miles from the Baltimore-Washington area, an easy day trip away. But because of some “cool” B&Bs (and the worth-the-trip Desert Rose Café, with its organic offerings), this family-friendly destination is also perfect for a romantic getaway, he noted.
While in the area, Spedden suggests a side trip to the Antietam National Battlefield. Linger a while in Hagerstown and visit the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, located in the historic City Park, where “The Blues and the Abstract Truths,” highlighting the works of African American artists, is on exhibit. Enjoy what has been called America’s second most beautiful city park, and stroll along the city’s cultural trail. As Spedden said, “Why rush?”
For more suggestions, download the “Visit Hagerstown” app.