For rent: 1830s whitewashed stone cottage, surrounded by water. Canal view. River view. Kitchen fireplace. Perhaps a ghost or two. Must have flood insurance.
House washed away only once, in 1847.
Call the C&O Canal National Historical Park for details.
The cash-strapped C&O Canal park is, indeed, offering for lease two of its historic lock tenders' houses. The park's administrators hope to find caring tenants who will help maintain the historic buildings and, perhaps, enjoy the lore of canal life.
The ideal renters will be adventurous souls willing to join a fraternity of a bygone way of life, people comfortable with the sound of water rushing through the ancient canal locks and able to imagine the lost sound of a boatman's horn on quiet summer nights.
The move is part of a plan to lease out many of the unoccupied or temporarily occupied park-owned houses and buildings to reduce maintenance costs and to generate a little revenue.
For now, the park has announced that it is putting up for lease lock house No. 6--built in 1830-31, swept away in 1847 and rebuilt in 1848--in the Glen Echo area, and lock house No. 10, built in 1830-31, near Cabin John. Both are in Montgomery County.
Both are quaint, stone houses situated near lift locks where in days of yore the crucial lock tenders lived with their families. The tenders were on duty 24 hours a day to operate the locks for passing canal boats.
The houses are small--each has only two bedrooms--and slightly quirky: The bathroom is in the basement of No. 6. Still, they are modestly appointed with modern conveniences such as washing machines and dryers. On weekends, they can see a fairly heavy traffic in bicyclists, walkers, kayakers and fishermen. Two parking spaces come with each house.
The lock houses are right off the Clara Barton Parkway and appear to be in a flight path for jets landing at Reagan National Airport. But they sit beneath tall pines and sycamores in spots that are sweet with the smell of the woods and the nearby Potomac River.
And the constant rush of the water through the broad timbers of the lock gates masks much of the background noise. Indeed, lock house No. 6 sits with the canal on one side and its creek-like bypass flume on the other.
"Have your own island," chuckles Sonny Sanders, the park's architect, about the setup.
The rent probably will be about $1,300 a month, Sanders says.
To live in a lock house is to live with the water as a neighbor and, occasionally, a guest. Lock house No. 6 had four feet of water in its basement during a January 1996 flood and one foot the following September.
Sanders says the renters would need flood insurance and a plan for dealing with water. Usually, what works is moving the furniture to the second floor and then mopping up downstairs afterward, he says.
"Whoever leases it will have to be aware of that," he says. "It'll be up to them, whether they move their furniture out or whatever. But I would suggest that they come up with some kind of a system . . . that would stop the water" in the event of a flood.
"To lay sandbags around here would take an army of people," he says. "The park might help them out, but we only have so many folks." There would, though, be ample warning. Several hours at least. Maybe even a day, he says. "That's the chance you take."
Floods, though, are a relative rarity.
The risk would be counterbalanced by the feel of living like a lock tender.
"You get to live in a national park," Sanders says of the advantages. "You get to live in a beautiful place. . . . Plus, you help preserve our structures."
The C&O Canal, stretching 184.5 miles along the Potomac River from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md., was built between 1828 and 1850 and used 74 lift locks to raise canal boats 610 feet from the tidewater to the mountains.
And along the long stretches of canal that wound through the miles of wilderness, the lights in the windows of a lock house were often the only glimmer of civilization.
They were a hearty lot, the mostly men, but sometimes women and children, who were summoned from their homes at all hours in all seasons by the call of an approaching canal boat from the 1830s to the 1930s.
They had names such as Didge Crawford, Bugs Cross, Coon Goodhart, Old Man Hamrick and Hezekiah Metts. They drank, fought, chewed snuff, kept cows and bees and could get fired for deserting their posts.
They had the often dangerous job of operating the complex collection of booms, levers and gears that opened and closed the heavy wooden lock gates and raised and lowered the water level for canal boats often groaning with cargo.
Many were drowned in the turbulent water of the locks through the years, according to a 1996 study of the lock houses by canal historian Thomas Swiftwater Hahn. There were other tragic lock house occurrences, according to Hahn.
In the early 1900s, tender Joe Davis and his wife were murdered in lock house No. 61, west of Hancock, Md., and the house was burned down to cover up the crime.
But there were births in the lock houses, too. Femmy Davis, whose sons tended Locks 12 and 13 near Carderock, was a canal midwife near the turn of the century.
There will be open houses July 30 and 31 for those interested.
Says Sanders: "If we don't get some folks in them, with the lack of money that we have, they're going to fall in on us."
CAPTION: Strapped for cash, the C&O Canal national park has decided to lease lock houses No. 6, above, and No. 10.
CAPTION: Open houses will be held July 30 and 31 for those interested in leasing lock house No. 6, above, or No. 10.