Georgetown residents, business persons, local politicians and government officials bid a final farewell Oct. 5 to the barge — called “The Georgetown” — that plied, with mule power, the gentle waters of the C&O Canal from 1982 to 2011.
The 90-foot, 17-and-a-half-ton boat was hauled from its resting place to be broken apart near Fletcher’s Boathouse north of Georgetown. For the past four years, it has rested in the canal between 31st Street and Thomas Jefferson Street.
Before the barge departed, Mayor Muriel Bowser, C&O Canal National Park Superintendent Kevin Brandt and Joe Sternlieb, CEO of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, addressed the large crowd gathered next to the canal at Lock 4 and on Thomas Jefferson Street.
The day marked the kickoff of the C&O Canal National Historical Park Georgetown Restoration Project, which involves reconstruction of sections of the canal walls as well as of Locks 3 and 4. A new canal boat and a renovated Georgetown visitor center, staffed by the National Park Service, will follow in 2018.
The lock design was created by Leonardo da Vinci and implemented by George Washington, Brandt said. “It’s time to honor the past in this second century of stewardship of national heritage, and break new ground for a vision of the C&O Canal,” he said. “While the canal is 184-and-a-half miles long, more than a million visitors come to Georgetown to see the two miles here.”
Bowser recalled the days when the canal boat entertained and informed school children, adding, “It is part of Georgetown’s future.” She said she wants to see children enjoying the legacy of the canal in the years ahead.
Sternlieb said the BID’s plan for 2028 included a new canal boat, but the possibility of going beyond a mere fix had him and his staff thinking that the restoration of the canal and its towpath in Georgetown could create a kind of “High Line for Washington, D.C.” This heightened aspiration created the nonprofit Georgetown Heritage, the board of which is filled with Georgetowners committed to something more than a new boat.
As the boat moved west — pulled by mules Dolly and Eva — people along the towpath followed its progress to glimpse it for the last time.