Comprised of 47 locks, 20 dams, and 15 miles of canals, the Rappahannock Navigation System struggled from its beginnings. After suffering numerous construction delays due to financial problems, the heyday of canal commerce on the Rappahannock was cut short by the rise of railroads. Today, many of the system's remains are remarkably well preserved offering a glimpse into a bygone, albeit brief, era.
How a Canal Lock Works
Canal boat enters lock chamber
Gates close behind boat
To lower boat: sluices opened in downstream gate to let water out
To raise boat: sluices opened in upstream gate to let water in
Gates opened allowing boat to float out to new level
Canal Boats of the Rappahannock
Construction: shallow-draft barges made of oak, known as Batteaux
Size: up to 65 ft long and 9 ft, 9 in wide
Cargo: corn, oats, wheat, salt fish, fertilizer, whiskey, lumber, and household goods
Propulsion: poles and oars
Crew: typically two men
Capacity: up to 2 tons
1792 The Rappahannock Navigation Co. is established with the goal of providing a passage along the Rappahannock River that would facilitate trade West of Fredericksburg.
1816 The Rappahannock Navigation Co. public stock sale is held but construction does not begin at this time because of financial constraints.
1829-1844 Residents of Fredericksburg come to the aid of the project when a chronic shortage of money allows for only parts of the canal system to be completed.
1829 Fredericksburg City Council raises enough capitol to commence the project and parade through the City is held to kick off excavation.
1845-1849 The Virginia legislature approves another loan for the canal and the system is completed.
1852 The end of the canal era is imminent with the competition from more efficient roads and railways.
1853 System is turned over to two farmers in hopes that they would maintain it, but the canal eventually ends up in ruins.
1855 Fredericksburg Water Power Co. buys the assets and converts the canal section in Fredericksburg from transportation to supplying power for mills.
Porch's Lock (Lock 5) Like many of the locks along the navigation system, Porch's Lock remains in excellent condition. this stone lock is located below Scott's Dam approximately 5 miles upstream from Mott's Run Landing.
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