Re: "George's Dream: Waltzing Matildaville" [Weekend, January 5], Paula Tarnapol (and Jim Putman, presumably) needs perspective. The Potowmack Canal Company was a failure.It was superseded by the C&O Canal Company -- which was also a commercial failure -- to be superseded by the railways.To suggest, however, that the Great Falls Canal itself was "poorly designed" misses the point and is in error. When the company was alarmed by the high costs of the canal construction, English engineers who were consulted foond little to change in James Rumsey's original plans -- and it was regarded as the principal engineering work of the 18th century in America. At the time Rumsey planned his canal there was only one canal in England and everything was experimental.
The financial failure of the Potowmack Canal Company was not connected to the Great Falls Canal but with ill-conceived efforts to improve shipping on the Shenandoah, Monocacy, Antietam, etc., and, as the story suggests, the inconstancy of the Postmac's water levels. In the first year of the Great Falls Canal the cost of river freight was reduced to half that of wagon freight, a shortage of canal boats developed, and the company received almost $10,000 in tolls. It then delcared its first, and only, dividend.
All this is nicely recorded in Frederick Gutheim's book The Potomac , which was published first in 1949 and revised in 1968. The book is in the "Illustrated Rivers of America" series... The Great Falls Canal is truly astonishing when viewed from either the water or the land -- and ought to be restored.