Tuesday, May 17, 2011
What a Fruit
May Something: I started my last full day on the canal with Swagman early, with a chance to glimpse an exciting bit of history motivating me to get moving. A short while after we began our trudge onward the walls around us turned to rock and closed in on both sides. Half a mile later we came upon the most impressive engineering feat on the canal: Paw Paw tunnel.
The tunnel is about 3/5 of a mile (3000 plus feet). The rock was forcefully opened by black powder as dynamite had not yet been invented. Black powder was notoriously unreliable, as likely to kill the workers as it was to actually break away the precise rocky obstruction.
Lee Montgomery was picked to head the project, which he planned to finish within two years, starting in 1836. As with most construction projects, there were cost overruns and delays. The tunnel wasn't finished until 1850 and Montgomery was bankrupted in the process.
Although you can see the exit from the very beginning, walking through the tunnel is creepy. Even with a flashlight I could not see the canal below me. I did not view any of the horrific beasts who know doubt dwell in that dark lair and I gladly passed to the other side in ignorance of their twelve eyes and sharp-toothed gaping maws.
Shortly after passing through the tunnel we turned left and crossed the Potomac into West Virginia for the penultimate time. Swagman and I entered the city of Paw Paw, which, like the tunnel is named after the Paw Paw fruit, the largest edible fruit in North America. We have not yet had an opportunity to enjoy its juicy joys as of this writing.
Paw Paw, as with the other cities on the canal has worn many hats throughout the years. At times the canal, railroad, orchard, and tannery industries have all been the employer of the town's citizens. All have departed and the burg struggles to find a niche in the uncertain future.
As industries have come and gone through the years, buildings have adapted to the changing times as well. The International Order of Odd Fellows Hall (named by Monty Python no doubt) has acted as the post office, city hall, library, etc. Grandma's Country Kitchen, where we ate breakfast, had once been used as a funeral parlor.
After our meal we returned to the C & O, completing a total of eleven miles for the day (plus a couple miles in and out of Paw Paw). I will go to sleep tonight at Potomac Forks, just short of Oldtown, Maryland. From Oldtown I will cross the Potomac for the final time, entering West Virginia and leaving the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath behind me for good.
11 miles/274 total miles