Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Few ventures were dearer to George Washington than his plan to make the Potomac River navigable as far as the Ohio River Valley. In the uncertain period after the Revolutionary War, Washington believed that better transportation and trade would draw lands west of the Allegheny Mountains into the United States and "...bind those people to us by a chain which never can be broken. The resulting Patowmack Canal is a series of five now inoperative canals located in Virginia that was designed to bypass rapids in the Potomac River. The most well-known of these is the Great Falls Skirting Canal in Great Falls Park in Virginia, which is an integral part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Thousands of boats locked through at Great Falls, carrying flour, whiskey, tobacco, and iron downstream; and carrying cloth, hardware, firearms, and other manufactured products upstream. Vessels varied from crudely constructed rafts to the long narrow "sharper," a keelboat that could carry up to 20 tons of cargo. The trip took 3 to 5 days down to Georgetown and 10 to 12 days poling against the current back to Cumberland. Many boat owners simply sold their boats for scrap and walked back instead. When the Erie Canal opened in 1825, it signaled the demise of the Patowmack Canal.

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