- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2009

BIG SPRING, Md. | Kenny and Barbara Clopper can only imagine what life was like along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in the 1800s.

“If walls could talk, you know there would be some interesting stories come out of these walls,” said Mrs. Clopper, who with her husband volunteers at Lockhouse 49 near Clear Spring.

The lock house is one of three such structures that the C&O; Canal National Historical Park has renovated and opened to the public for lodging. Lockhouse 49 is off Four Locks Road south of Clear Spring.

The other lock houses to be opened for lodging are Lockhouse 22 at Pennyfield Lock near Potomac and Lockhouse 6 near Bethesda.

Park officials said they decided to open lock houses for overnight stays because of the “extraordinary interpretive experience” the visits would provide and because it would help expand lodging opportunities to canal visitors.

The closest lodging facilities to Lockhouse 49 are about seven to 10 miles away, Mr. Clopper said.

The renovation of the lock house, one of 26 along the canal’s towpath, started in January and involved removing old paneling and the repair of brickwork, said Sam Tamburro, cultural resource program manager for the park.

The renovation, which was completed in April, gave a fresh appearance to the home’s old pine floors and features such as fireplaces. The dark red color of the floor is in contrast to the white walls and gray trim.

Old black-and-white photographs of the lock house hang on the walls, and part of the renovated basement offers a place for bicyclists to store their bikes.

Each of the renovated lock houses reflects a different era on the canal and Lockhouse 49 reflects the 1920s, Mr. Clopper said.

The house has electric service, but no water.

Mr. Tamburro pointed to a water pump down the canal from the house where guests will be able to get water from April to November. During the rest of the year, they will have to bring their own water, Mr. Tamburro said.

There are four beds and four trundle beds in the house, allowing for up to eight guests, Mr. Clopper said.

And the bathroom?

“It’s a porta-potty,” Mr. Tamburro said. “I characterize this to people as soft camping. We’re trying to be true to the period.”

Mr. Tamburro said park officials were still trying to determine what to charge for overnight stays in the house.

In addition to the C&O; Canal Trust Web site, www.canal trust.org, people likely will be able to get information by calling to make reservations, he said.

During the 1800s and early 1900s, the canal along the Potomac River passed by Maryland communities like Big Spring, Hancock, Williamsport and Sharpsburg in Washington County, and Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. It was a popular means of hauling farm produce, timber, coal and other materials until it ceased operation in 1924.

Boats measuring as long as 90 feet were pulled by mules along the canal, which stretched from Georgetown in the District to Cumberland.

Locks allowed canal boats to navigate sloping terrain by raising or lowering the level of the water. Lockhouse 49 was a busy one, with the lock keeper responsible for getting canal boats through four locks.

Today, the canal towpath is a popular trail for hikers, runners and bicycle riders.

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