Town Of Williamsport, MD





C&O Canal Boat



"The canal built Williamsport, and now it's our saving grace,".

"This boat represents where we're going. It's a vision fulfilled." - Honorable James G. McCleaf II, Mayor



C&O Canal boat launch at Cushwa Basin start of new era
April 27, 2011
By John McVey - Journal staff writer ( ,

WILLIAMSPORT, Md. - The crane's metal lines attached to the sleek, sporty boat slackened as the buoyancy of the water began to support its weight.


And to the cheers of school children looking on, the first of five C&O Canal launch boats was launched Tuesday morning at the Cushwa Basin in Williamsport, Md.


Not only was the 30-foot-long, 10-foot-wide and about 6-foot-deep gleaming white boat launched, a new era for the C&O Canal National Historical Park was launched as well, Park Superintendent Kevin D. Brandt said.


"This is a new on-water interpretive resource," he told the audience of about 80 who gathered for the event. "The boats will begin to show up on the canal, but it is Williamsport that captures my imagination the most."


Brandt explained that plans call for repairing and rewatering Lock 44 at Williamsport, eventually repairing the Conococheague Aqueduct, rewatering the canal above it and making some other improvements that would allow the canal launch to carry passengers up and down that section of the canal.


"We can tell a story at Williamsport like no place else on the canal," he said.


The Cushwa Basin at Williamsport is almost the midway point of the 184.5-mile-long canal.


Construction on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal began on the 4th of July, 1828, at Georgetown in the District of Columbia.


Originally projected to extend to the Ohio River, it was terminated at Cumberland, Md., in 1850, overtaken by the newest technology of the day: the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.


The canal continued operating until 1924, when floods and financial failure finally closed it.


The canal was saved from being paved over in the mid-1950s, primarily through the efforts of U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. In 1971, Congress established the C&O Canal NHP.


Canal launches plied the waterway from the late 1890s through the closing of the C&O, Brandt said. They were used to transport canal officials, workmen and passengers from place to place as well as private pleasurecraft. They were powered by steam or battery, he said, pointing out that battery technology in those days was far more advanced than one might suspect.


While the boat that was launched Tuesday is made of modern materials, like Fiberglas and chromed steel, it is a faithful replica of the style of boats that made their way along the canal more than 100 years ago, Brandt said.


It took Beckmann Boatshop of North Kingstown, R.I., about six months to construct the launch, which cost about $150,000, said William Justice, chief of interpretation and education for the park.


The boat will be able to carry 12 to 18 passengers, depending on their size, he said.


For now, the canal launch will go through testing and evaluation at Williamsport, Justice said, to determine any changes that need to be made to the next four boats that are expected to be delivered over the next few years.

Park officials hope the boat will be ready to take passengers on rides around the Cushwa Basin in late summer or early fall.


Weighing about 5,000 pounds, the boat is powered by 16 six-volt batteries hidden beneath the seats, Park Ranger and boat pilot Carl Lennartson said.


"It handles like a BMW," he said.


It can run for about eight hours on one charge that can be done with a generator or electrical outlet, West District Ranger Curt Gaul added.


Maximum speed is about 10 mph, but they will never go that fast in the confined spaces of the Cushwa Basin and the canal, Park Ranger Geoff Suter said.


Brandt emphasized that the canal launches cannot be done without cooperation by several levels of government and agencies, saying that the project could not have happened without the support of Williamsport's Mayor Jim McCleaf.


In turn, McCleaf praised the efforts of former Maryland state Sen. Donald F. Munson, who got the project started.

McCleaf said the addition of the canal launch to the park at Williamsport is an economic development project.


"The canal built Williamsport, and now it's our saving grace," he said Tuesday. "This boat represents where we're going. It's a vision fulfilled."


- Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or

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Williamsport would like to thank "The Journal" and its staff writer John McVey for the use of this article.