Chapter Eight of Oberlin’s Anomaly takes place in 1901 along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal above Georgetown, DC. Most of the novel has its setting along the canal and nearby Washington, DC and Maryland in the current time, but there are flash backs like chapter eight, Viola past historical periods.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (C&O Canal) runs for some one hundred and eighty-four miles north along the Potomac River from Washington, DC to Cumberland Maryland. Historically canal boats transported coal and sometimes fruits and vegetables down to Washington and Alexandria, Va. The canal operated from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland. It was built because the Potomac River is not navigable above Little Falls. The entire length of the canal now forms the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
The canal descends 605 feet down from Cumberland to Washington and this required the building of seventy-four locks that lowered the canal boats during the route. A towpath ran along the side of the canal, and horses and mules and their leaders traveled the path towing the boats. Eleven aqueducts were built to convey the canal over intervening rivers and streams.
The canal varies in width from 80 at the southern end to 50 feet wide at the northern end and runs some six feet deep. The canal boats made a round trip from Cumberland to DC or Alexandria in about twenty days, thirteen days down and seven days to return. This was done running the boats during the day. Some captains made trips in fourteen days or less running all night.
The captains of the canal boats often bought their boats from a coal company like The Cumberland Coal Company. They could get mortgages from these companies and pay them back on an installment plan. They made their payments by the load, paying perhaps $40.00 per each trip the length of the canal.
Families, like that of Vernon, James, Ophelia and Viola Hilliard in the novel, lived aboard the freight boats that carried the coal.