Canal Lock Keeper’s house stone’s throw from monuments

A canal down Constitution Ave. all the way to Capitol Hill?

Get ready to dive in to Washington history.

The Lock Keeper’s House on the corner of 17th St. and Constitution Ave. N.W. is the sole existing reminder of the ill-fated C&O Canal extension built in 1832-33 to connect the Washington City Canal.

The Washington City Canal operated from 1815 to the mid-1850s as a means of shipping goods. The lockkeeper collected tolls and kept records of passing commerce. The house was believed built around 1835.

Congress spent $100,000 on the canal and President James Madison presided over its May 2, 1810 groundbreaking. The War of 1812 delayed the canal’s finish until 1815.

The canal was never successful, partly because it was only three feet deep. It overflowed during high tide and was unusable during low tide. Eventually, railroads surpassed canals for shipping goods and the Washington City Canal became a sewer and storm drain by the 1860s. Finally, Boss Shepherd, then head of Public Works, ordered the canal filled in beginning 1871. It was then called B St. before later renamed Constitution Ave.

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One Response to Canal Lock Keeper’s house stone’s throw from monuments

  1. Meg says:

    We’ve passed that so many times and it was only recently that I learned what it is! Very fascinating. It would have been wild to see a canal running through the city.

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