“We got a gate,” cried one of the construction workers at Lock 3 of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, between Thomas Jefferson and 30th Streets, on Oct. 11. Workers at the bottom of a waterless canal looked up to hold the 5,000-pound gate being lowered into place by a crane.
For the journalists invited by the National Park Service, it was indeed a “once in a century opportunity,” as the NPS noted, “to see new historically accurate canal lock gates installed … and to walk through the C&O Canal Prism (stone channel), while there is no water.”
Since October 2016, the Lock 3 and Lock 4 rehabilitation project has removed stones, plants and trees to secure the deteriorating canal wall along this area — and begin the renewal of one of Georgetown’s crown jewels. The cost of the project is estimated at $6.5 million.
Nicknamed the Grand Old Ditch, the canal was completed in 1831 and is 184.5 miles long — from Georgetown, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland.
“For nearly two years, artisans used period tools and methods to reconstruct the locks,” according to the NPS. To raise or lower the water level, each lock contains two gates on either side to seal in water when required.
The NPS used as much of the original stone (Aquia Creek sandstone, the same as that used for the White House and the Capitol) as possible, it said. Because the ground is not bedrock at Lock 3, the bottom of the canal — originally lined with wooden planks — now has a new reinforced concrete foundation that looks like the original planks.
In the coming year, the NPS will refill the Georgetown section of the canal with water. In 2020, a replica canal boat, for rides and educational purposes, is expected.
More than $11 million in federal, municipal and private funds have been raised for the rehabilitation of the C&O Canal.
The restoration of the locks in Georgetown is part of a multiyear effort that brings together the NPS, the D.C. government, the Georgetown Business Improvement District and Georgetown Heritage to reimagine and reinvigorate C&O Canal National Historical Park in Georgetown. More information about the Georgetown Canal Plan is available at georgetownheritage.org.