C&O Canal Book
Gary Anthes has recently completed a two-year project to produce a book of fine-art photography about the C&O Canal, a nearly two-hundred mile stretch of water that begins in Washington, D.C. and ends in Cumberland, Maryland. The book has been published by Schiffer Publishing and is available at Amazon and various retail bookstores. Below is the book’s introduction:
One falls in love with a 184-mile ditch slowly, unaware. Only after many years of exploring the C&O Canal did I begin to see it as a kind of home, a place where I had roots. In the summer of 2010, looking for a photography project that would combine my love of nature and historic architecture, I began to shoot the canal in a serious way. I hoped to create a book of photographs, not as documentation, but as an artistic tribute to the waterway. I wanted to convey not only the canal’s present drama and beauty, but also its troubled past. I wanted to spotlight this unique partnership between man and nature, and the workings of time on that partnership.
Construction began in 1824. The idea was to provide a navigable link between tidewater Washington, D.C. and the Ohio River, allowing the capital region to tap into the natural wealth of the west. Construction incurred stunning cost and schedule overruns. Immigrant laborers rioted and killed each other over ethnic differences, pay lapses and punishing working conditions, while hundreds died of cholera and other diseases. Floods from the adjacent Potomac River repeatedly damaged the canal and left it closed for weeks at a time. A flood in 1924 put an end to commercial traffic forever, but it was competition from the railroad that really did the waterway in.
Ironically, after a century and a half of toil, trouble and tragedy–indeed, failure–the canal has grown into a huge success, a showcase for nature and a place for contemplation and recreation. That can be seen in the solitary biker on the towpath near Big Pool, disappearing into the autumn woods; in the butterfly hovering over a flower growing out of the stone walls at Swain’s Lock; and at Seneca Creek at dawn when the first rays of the sun gild the already red sandstone at Riley’s Lock.
These photographs, I hope, provide a monument to the thousands of people who built, used and tended the canal over those early years. Their stories are revealed in the mammoth lift-lock mechanisms, frozen in rust and time; in the massive granite, limestone and sandstone blocks that line the walls of locks and aqueducts, now mostly dry; and in the crumbling remains of lock houses, struggling to maintain their dignity at canalside. The National Park Service calls those artifacts “footprints of a restless nation’s great migration westward.” It is my hope that these photographs might in some small way help preserve the footprints.