As jets landing at National Airport screamed overhead, a group of Alexandria preservationists and politicians gathered on the waterfront and paid tribute Sunday to a quieter, and almost extinct, form of transportation - canal traffic.

The occasion, sponsored by the Alexandria Archeological Commission, was presentation to the city of a painting, depicting the southernmost lock of the Alexandria Canal.

Commissioned by the American Canal Society, and done by Lola Abell of Hagerstown, Md., it shows a barge in the old tide lock of the seven mile long canal. In the 19th century the canal ran from the Alexandria harbor, between Montgomery and First Streets, north to Rosslyn and across the Potomac, via and aquaduct, to connect with the C&O Canal in Georgetown.

Rep. Herbert Harris (D-Va.) presented the painting to Mayor Frank E. Mann for the Canal Society. It is to be hung in the city's museum at Fort Ward Park.

For the event, which included bagpiplent from the Alexandria Pipe Band and pestries donated by a local-French restaurant, participants stood along the bicyle path between the Ramada Inn and a railway siding overlooking the Potomac, just about where the canal would have run inland.

According to maps of the old canal, which was in operation from 1843-1887, there were four locks between the river's edge and Washington Street.

"The Ramada Inn sits on one, tennis courts have been built on another and Watergate is building townhouses on a third," explained archeological commission chairman Bernard Brenman.

The only lock which could be restored now is the one nearest the shoreline.

The city's archeological commission has requested $15,000 from the Virginia Landmarks Commission to begin excavation of the lock this year, plus $56,000 in restoration funds for next year. No funding has yet been approved, however.

"The lock is buried about three to four feet underground," said Dr. William Trout, a canal buff and one of the American Canal Society founders.

The Northern Virginia Conservation Council has proposed that the restored lock be the focal point for a National Historical Park to run along Alexandria's shoreline. The future of such a park, however, depends on the outcome of a federal government suit against shoreline landowners in Alexandria to gain clear title of land lying east of the 1791 high water mark.

According to Council member Ellen Pickering there is strong support in Congress to creste a water front park if title is granted to the government.

The Alexandria Canal was used primarily to bring coal from the C&O Canal's end to the Alexandria harbor, where much of it was shipped to the west coast to fuel steam lines going to the orient. During its heyday the canal was very prosperous, but its success was finally eclipsed by railroads.