The nonprofit group Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern are still about $50,000 away from their $545,000 goal of raising money for a new boat in the C&O Canal by Great Falls Tavern. Mark and Greg Reges, co-owners of Old Anglers Inn, decided to chip in with the effort. They donated part of the proceeds from a party they threw on July 11 to celebrate the opening of the new beer garden at Old Angler's.
“They’ve been very generous,” said Don Harrison, president of Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern. The local nonprofit was founded in 1973 and supports the National Park Service. There are about 150 members, and the annual dues are $35. “It’s opening night for Anglers Garden, a new area out here. We get 20 percent of the proceeds from tonight, and from the paintings.”
A portion of the sales of artwork available at the party also went to a new canal boat, and 35 percent of the proceeds for the book “The C&O Canal,” by Gaithersburg author Dorothy Camagna, will also benefit the project. In total, about $1,600 was raised for a new canal boat, according to Harrison.
Mark Reges of Old Angler's thought the opening of the beer garden would be a perfect time to raise money for the canal boat.
“Thirty years ago we had a beer garden back here, but it got overgrown and abandoned,” he said. “We decided to bring it back into the business. I’m hoping to bring something new to the area, a lighter fare, a new selection of drinks, live jazz on the weekends and Shakespeare plays. It’s a place to go instead of driving all the way to Bethesda or D.C.”
The C&O Canal, which boasts 185 miles of bike trail and more than 170 years of history, is a favorite destination for athletes and nature lovers. Each year, 18,000 visitors once enjoyed trips down the canal and up through a canal lock on a large replica canal boat, where school children and residents were treated to history lessons and scenic views a team of mules hauled their boat along. In 2003, the National Park Service took the Canal Clipper out of commission after the hull sustained irreparable damage.
Provided that the remaining funds are raised, Scarano Boat Builders, a boat building company in New York, will deliver a 58-foot, double-decker canal boat to Lock 20 at Great Falls Tavern in early fall. The vessel will be a replica of the packet boats that sailed the canal in centuries past, but with a modern sound system, toilet and wheel chair lift.
Pending formal approval by the National Park Service, the boat will be named the "Charles Fenton Mercer" or the "Charles F. Mercer," after the C&O Canal Company's first president, Harrison said. "I think it's going to be approved," Harrison said. "The Park Service has been pushing for [the name] because it makes for good history to interpret."
Along with some Park Service officials and some fellow Friends of the Tavern, Harrison traveled to Albany in early July to see the boat-in-progress. "It really looks nice," Harrison said. "They had the top deck put on it," and have since put the planks on the upper deck. "It's moving right along."
For more information about the canal boat and how to donate, visit www.buildacanalboat.com. For more information about Old Angler’s Inn, visit www.oldanglersinn.com or call 301-365-2425.
Charles Fenton Mercer
"Charles Fenton Mercer" or "Charles F. Mercer" is the likely name of the new canal boat being built by Scarano Boat Builders in Albany, N.Y. and scheduled to arrive at the C&O Canal by Great Falls Tavern late this August. Charles Fenton Mercer (1778-1858) was the first important figure to push for a continuous canal up the Potomac valley, while still legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates (1810-1817). As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1818-1839, he authored or supported many pieces of legislation that made it possible to obtain essential federal funds and a charter. He called the 1823 Canal Conference, an essential event in the process of getting to the C&O Canal. While serving as a congressman involved in many important state and national issues, he served as the first president of the C&O Canal Company (1828-1833). He performed the job in an extremely hands-on manner, organizing the corporation and getting construction started.