Project to renovate crumbling aqueduct

Thursday, March 9, 2006

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Tom Fedor⁄The Gazette
Debris from the Catoctin Aqueduct of the C&O Canal lie in the foreground. Just one side arch of the aqueduct, in disrepair for decades, remains, but a $2.3 million project is set to restore the historic structure.

A $2.3 million project planned by the Community Foundation of Frederick County and the National Park Service, among other organizations, has offered a glimmer of hope that a deteriorating historic aqueduct can be saved.

Deteriorating stones are crumbling from the historic Catoctin Aqueduct in Western Frederick County into the creek below. Many hand-cut granite remnants and wrought-iron railings have washed downstream toward the Potomac River.

Other large stones are visible just under the stream’s surface under the steel bridge installed in the World War II era to provide a passage for hikers and bikers. Just down the towpath, toward Lock 29, a graveyard of curvy, rusted wrought-iron pieces sticking up from the ground blend into their surroundings. A deteriorating chain-link fence circles the cluster of iron pieces.

Catoctin Aqueduct Project officials, such as George Lewis, believe some of the aqueduct’s remnants may be lost forever.

‘‘With every flood, the materials get further down river,” Lewis told the Brunswick mayor and City Council last week in an effort to shore up support from municipalities for the project. Brunswick officials reassured Lewis they favored the project and would assist in securing grants.

The Catoctin Aqueduct, at the C&O Canal National Historical Park between Brunswick and Point of Rocks, has been in disrepair for decades. With only one side arch remaining, it is nearly gone. Restoring the structure to its original condition seems a near impossible task. But C&O Canal Superintendent Kevin Brandt said if done soon, the challenge can be met.

To support

Donations to the Catoctin Aqueduct Project may be sent to The Community Foundation of Frederick County, 312 E. Church St., Frederick, MD 21701. Write “Catoctin Aqueduct Project“ in the check’s memo line.

‘‘It really is the most beautiful structure the canal company built,” Brandt said. ‘‘It’s amazing what the stone masons and engineers constructed in the 1800s.”

Park officials fear that ongoing erosion could soon destroy the historical monument, which is already severely damaged. Large stones hang from the outer walls of the remaining wall. Officials hope to launch the renovation project in 2008 for completion by the start of tourist season in 2009. ‘‘The history in this particular spot is more than the Irish masons who built the aqueduct,” Brandt said. ‘‘It’s about America developing as a country.”

An engineering feasibility study has been funded for $25,000 and is near completion. Now, the partnership of local organizations, including the National Park Service and the C&O Canal Association, are seeking more donations to fund design of the final phases of the project, Lewis said. Anticipating matching state grants, the project aims to raise about $1.5 million.

One of 11 aqueducts along the C&O Canal, the Catoctin Aqueduct is located at mile 51.5. It was constructed from 1832 to 1834 with hand-cut granite from nearby Sugarloaf Mountain and finished with scrolled wrought-iron railing. The structure suffered from neglect during the 1900s.

In 1973, a large portion of the structure collapsed after Hurricane Agnes struck the previous year. Two of the three arches on the aqueduct buckled that year; the damaged area is now under a protective steel terrace.