Repair of the Monocacy Aqueduct
in the Works

-- A prime destination of Club members of yore!

by Carl Linden

Sycamore Islander, February 2002

You may have heard the good news!  Congress appropriated the funds to stabilize and restore the Monocacy Aqueduct to its former glory.  The largest and most impressive of eleven aqueducts on the C & O Canal, the Monocacy Aqueduct has been deteriorating over time and is headed for eventual collapse if not repaired.  About as long as the Washington Monument is high the Monocacy served as a "water-bridge" carrying canal boats across the Monocacy River.  It was constructed by hand and its quartzite stone blocks were hewn from quarries near the base of Sugar Loaf Mountain some four miles from the aqueduct site.  Begun in 1828, it was completed in 1833.  It is a monument to early American civil engineering and is the finest such structure still remaining from the American Canal Era.

Sycamore Islanders canoeing on the Monocacy,
beneath the Aqueduct ca. 1917.

The Agnes Flood in '72 battered the aqueduct.  Soon afterwards the park service put a steel harness (similar to orthodontic braces) on the structure as a temporary stabilization measure.  However, for the past quarter century nothing further was done to stave off the deterioration the structure was undergoing.  To lose it would be to lose a master link in the physical continuity of the C & O Canal National Historical Park as well as a monument to the nation's venture westward.

In 1995 the C & O Canal Association took up the cause of restoring the aqueduct. A Monocacy Aqueduct Committee was formed (chaired by your current president) and a fund-raising and public information campaign for restoring the aqueduct was mounted.  The campaign was successfully conluded last fall when Congress appropriated $6.4 million for the project. Work will begin in late spring or early summer 2002.  The "orthodontic braces" will be removed. The beauty of line and proportion of the majestic, seven-arched aqueduct will once more emerge into full view.

Now one thing is clear from the above scenes from John Thomson's archive of old Club photos.  Our Club forebears loved to take jaunts to the Monocacy Aqueduct. It is a great place for messing around with canoes and picnicking in this scenic spot where the Monocacy meets the Potomac.  Members also took cruises on Canal Boat 67 from Glen Echo to the aqueduct.  Old 67 was pulled by mules, or maybe by more fashionable horses, at a breath-taking three-mile-an-hour pace.

Some 14 hours later, not counting stops, it arrived at the Monocacy (mile 42.2 on the canal).  Here we had the Club floating "large parties" going on for two days or more.  Evidently, stringent large-party rules were not applied in those days.

Another thing is also clear.  Our forebears appreciated the Monocacy Aqueduct as a prime destination along the canal and river.  If they were with us today, they would have been four-square behind the effort to restore the old aqueduct.  They knew an American Treasure when they saw one!