Updated June 26, 2012, at 11:20 AM: Those who wish to say a proper good bye to the barge, and its mule-drawn tradition, can join a formal farewell ceremony Wednesday evening at 5 at lock number four, between Thomas Jefferson and 31st streets. A flyer reads, “Demonstrate your support for our historic reproduction canal boat and the loss of this interpretive treasure.” At the bottom it notes: “Black balloons will be provided.”
Mules pulling a long barge along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in Georgetown is a storied part of Washington’s past and a beloved attraction for tourists and locals in modern times. But alas, it will be so no longer: The 30-year-old barge, the Georgetown, is about to be towed away, dismantled, and replaced by a smaller electric boat. Is it because of economics? “Part of it, absolutely,” says a spokesman for the National Park Service.
The 30-foot-long red, white, and blue barge is in need of extensive hull repair, work estimated to cost “well over a couple hundred thousand dollars,” says Bill Line of the NPS National Capital Region. The new boat, a third the size and built by Beckmann Boatshop, costs $148,000.
The barge and its crew have entertained and informed countless schoolchildren, tourists, and even a lot of area grown-ups seeking a diversion—a chance to slow down, an idle hour on the water experiencing the pace of life as it once was. The mules were popular, too, as they walked the towpath or rested on the canal bank near Thomas Jefferson Street. They had names and were fine with being petted. They were removed after the barge was taken out of service more than a year ago.
A factor in the boat’s accelerated deterioration is when it was set on fire by vandals on September 12, 1998. “Repairs were made,” says Line, “but it still sustained enough damage to limit its useful life.”
The new Georgetown canal boat, which will hold 12 passengers, “is a replica of one that operated in the 1890s,” says Line. “It is historically accurate.” He does not know when the new boat will go into service but the Georgetown is expected to be towed up to Fletcher’s Cove. “We’re looking to do it in July,” says Line, “but after the Fourth.” All we can say is RIP.
Or, taking nothing away from the merits of Karen Klein’s charitable windfall, if the barge were a bus monitor who’d been abused by middle school bullies, the repair funds would already be raised.