This video documents the repair of damaged drystone walls in the popular Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. It shows the use of modern equipment – replacing donkey power, pulleys, and wenches – lifting the irregular, awkward, and extremely heavy schist and gneiss boulders back into place. There is no mortar or concrete. The footage depicts the planning and organization essential for a large-scale restoration project, a project that serves as a prototype for future genuine repairs.
The C&O Canal was one of the nation’s most abitious industrial engineering experiments of the mid-1800′s, overcoming a 605-foot elevation change to provide a flatwater route 185 miles inland to the coalfields of the Allegheny Mountains. Masons built stone dams, culverts, embarkments, abutments, spillways, tunnels, acqueducts, a series of locks, and lined the canal prism with dry stone retaining walls.
At Harpers Ferry, the canal, roadway, and newly built railroad, all shared the same narrow space where the Potoma and Shenandoah Rivers cut through the Blue Ridge. After 150 years, the 1996 floodwaters, channeled forcefully through this passage, damaged the old canal walls. Downstream, at Washington, large tree roots had grown through the drystone masonry, and heavily industrial warehouses, built too close to the canal, damaged the canal walls there. Park officials, emphasizing the Park Service’s philosophy of authentic preservation, partnered with the Dry Stone Conservancy to repair two damaged canal sections. This video is the story of that procedure.