The Lockmasters of the Muskingum

 

Muskingum_River_Canal_at_Zanesville

Muskingum River Canal at Zanesville (Wikimedia Commons)

Atlas Obscura is running Dylan Taylor-Lehman’s really interesting piece on the canals of the Muskingum River in Ohio and the lockmaster who run them.  Here is a taste:

 

THE MIGHTY MUSKINGUM RIVER WINDS 112 miles through southeastern Ohio, from Coshocton to Marietta, where it flows into the Ohio and, in turn, the even-mightier Mississippi. The Muskingum was, for decades, a critical route for the movement of people and goods in the region, though today it’s almost exclusively used by pleasure boaters. As the river bends around downtown Zanesville, a small city with an emerging art scene in the gentlest foothills of the Appalachians, there’s a dam, one of 10 on the river. Boaters who want to pass it need to steer toward an old but well-maintained canal on the eastern side of the river, and grab the attention of a man sitting in a small wooden shack. That’s Tim Curtis, and he’s one of the few full-time lockmasters still manning America’s waterways.

A boat that wants to get past the dam has to rise or drop 15 feet, so the canal is equipped with locks. The Muskingum’s locks are some of the last period-correct examples in the country, Curtis says, and his job has barely changed in 170 years.

Curtis’s shack sits on a narrow, verdant island, approximately 600 yards long, formed where the canal splits off the river and accessible from the town’s three-way Y-Bridge. As a boat approaches, Curtis dons a small lifejacket—“we have to wear these even if we’re mowing”—and grabs the crank handles from the shack, where they are kept under lock and key.

Read the rest here.