Children on C&O Canal boats were put to work by the age of 5, and they knew they could trust mules with their secrets — the mules’ big ears made them perfect listeners, and the mules never repeated a single word told to them.
This is just one of the mule tales that Kathleen Kelly told to a crowd of more than 100 people at “Mules and Mule Tales,” a fund-raiser to help build a new replica canal boat at Great Falls Tavern on Thursday, June 30.
For 30 years, the Canal Clipper carried more than 18,000 visitors each year through the canal locks by Great Falls Tavern. In spring 2003, the Park Service took the Canal Clipper out of commission after damage to the boat’s hull rendered it inoperable. For the third straight year, there has been no canal boat at Great Falls Tavern — the closest replica boat operates near the beginning of the canal in Georgetown.
“We’ve got to get these mules back to being employed,” said Del. Jean Cryor (R-15), who attended Thursday night’s event.
On the Fourth of July, Harrison was on the Canal Clipper, answering questions about the boat. “When people see there’s someone on the boat, they come on, get interested, and start asking questions,” Harrison said.
PUTTING THE MULES back to work will require a replacement boat that will cost $600,000. Friends of Historic Great Falls Tavern raised more than $3,500 on Thursday through a silent auction and individual donations.
“We were well pleased with that,” said Harrison, president of Friends of the Tavern. “We looked at it as both a fund-raiser and an informational session. … We think with people coming and listening to us, more donations will start coming in.”
Friends of the Tavern has raised more than half of the $600,000 necessary to build a replacement canal boat. Maryland’s legislature approved a $200,000 history and heritage bill toward a canal boat, and the C&O Canal Association made a $50,000 matching pledge in March. Individual donations have matched the C&O Canal Association’s pledge.
“It’s wonderful to see a community recognize the value of its own history,” said superintendent of C&O Canal National Historical Park Kevin Brandt, who attended on Thursday night. People can travel great distances to see historic sites, often forgetting about local history, Brandt said. “There are 3 million people who come to this park to see the history here.”
In the Great Falls Tavern visitor's center is a list of corporations and foundations who donated to restoration projects along the C&O Canal after the 1996 floods that devastated the towpath and many of the structures alongside it.
“If they made donations after the 1996 floods, there’s no reason why they won’t to it again,” Harrison said.