Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cushwa Basin on the C and O Canal

Cushwa Brick Warehouse, ca. 1810
On the way to West Virginia, I had the opportunity to stop by and (briefly) fish a spot I had visited once before, the Cushwa Basin on the C&O (Chesapeake & Ohio) Canal. On the lightest of light tackle, I managed to catch several small sunfish and a few tiny bass. The spot offers an impressive diversity of fishing, from the deep, cold water of the Potomac, to the constructed Cushwa Basin itself (on the canal line), and the colder shallows of Conococheague Creek which outfalls to the Potomac about 500' west of the Cushwa Basin. Public access, including small boat access, is great. You just have to get here - about 90 miles west of Baltimore and 60 miles northwest of Washington DC. When I first arrived, people were feeding Wonder Bread to the fish, which definitely did not help my fishing. In addition, the larger sunfish were all on their nests, and fully territorial throughout the extended shallows (the subject of a future post). With that being said, here's a little bit of background on this unique spot.

Cushwa Basin, with German Horse Barn (ca. 1780s, left) and Brick Warehouse (1810, built on the foundation of a 1700s tobacco barn).
The Cushwa Basin was built on the C&O Canal in the 1830s. The land was first "owned" by the Patowmack (Potomac) Land Company (proprietor: George Washington) in 1785. The idea behind the canal was to connect the natural resources of the Ohio River Valley to the export markets of the Chesapeake Bay & East Coast.
Between 1785 and 1828, the primary structures of the Canal were built, along with some heavy duty river locks in the Upper Potomac, meant to support the canal's water level in many areas, and directly float the barges through other areas. Slowly, aqueducts were constructed to keep the canal boats out of the Potomac River completely. The most notable of these aqueducts was the Monocacy Aqueduct, which I previously visited and blogged about here, but another aqueduct was right here at Cushwa - the Conococheague Aqueduct, built in 1834.

Cushwa Basin - looking east into the C&O Canal
Like the Monocacy Aqueduct, the Conococheague Aqueduct was a pinch-point for freight and durable goods (hence the need for the Cushwa Basin), and as such, was a frequent target during the Civil War. The Aqueduct was sabotaged (but not destroyed) by Union troops in 1861 (Battle of Falling Waters), sabotaged and destroyed by Confederate troops in 1863, rebuilt, and sabotaged (but not destroyed) by Confederate troops in 1864. It was rebuilt in 1865, again in 1870, and once again in 1887. The Aqueduct, Cushwa Basin, and the Canal itself went out of business in 1924, unable to compete with its competitor, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which (ironically) was built to compete with the Erie Canal, not the C&O Canal. Here's a great read on their 150+ years of competition, courtesy of the National Park Service!


spotted face said...

Too bad you couldn't catch any bigger fish, but that is a beautiful spot to wet a line!

wishbone said...

Thanks for your post. That was a good history lesson. I enjoyed it.

Toure Zeigler said...

When Im stuck in my cubicle and read your blog, I often wish I had your job.


nice pictures and history...wish to meet you someday

Jaclyn said...

I came across your blog while trying to come up with a name for my dog. The pictures you've taken of Cushwa's and the canal are beautiful--I actually own a house within walking distance and no matter how many times I drive past, either to my house or into WV, the beauty of the place never ceases to amaze me. When or if you have time, drive out to Downsville and take a gander at Dam #4. Best of luck and safe travels to you!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to make a clarification that the building on the left in your picture is actually the "Trolley Barn" or Williamsport Power Station from the turn of the 20th century. It was built around 1896-7 and only opperated for 2 years before a bigger and better power generating plant was built in Hagerstown to support the growing trolley system from Williamsport to Hagerstown and the other out lying towns.

Anonymous said...

Interesting story you got here. It would be great to read more about that topic.
BTW check the design I've made myself Overnight escort

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