Our American colleagues have just completed metal stitching repairs on a historic bridge crossing the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal stretches over a distance of 297 km (184.5 miles) from Cumberland, Maryland, to Georgetown, DC on the US East Coast. It was constructed between 1828 and 1850 by approximately 35’000 labourers, mostly immigrants from Europe. Its purpose was to enable the shipment of coal from the rural but coal rich Allegheny Mountains to the much more densely populated regions and sea ports along the Atlantic coast.
The canal was operated from 1831 until 1924. While originally built for the transportation of coal, it quickly became an important lifeline for communities along its way.
Boats were used to ship agricultural produce and lumber to markets downstreams. They then returned loaded with manufactured goods. These boats typically did not have their own means of propulsion, but were pulled along by mules walking on towpaths located at either side of the canal.
One end of the canal, Cumberland, lies at an altitude 184 m (605 feet) higher than the other end, Georgetown. This meant that lift locks were needed – in total 74 of them were constructed. One of them is visible in the picture above, in front of the bridge.
In addition to the 74 locks, the canal also featured many other feats of early engineering. There were seven dams, about 240 culverts, a few aqueducts, a tunnel 950 meters (3’120 feet) long and, of course, bridges. A few of these bridges still exist today, such as the one that our metal stitching specialists proudly helped to restore.
Metal Stitching Work Performed
Exposure to the elements for over 150 years took its toll on the bridge structure. Cracks had developed in many of the vertical cast iron columns carrying the bridge deck. In all likelyhood, the cracks that were found were freeze cracks. Freezing temperatures are common in Georgetown from the middle of December until early March. If water enters one of the exposed, hollow columns and gets trapped there, then it very likely freezes during a cold winter night. Over time, the freeze/thaw cycles led to cracks.
All of the cracks ran in vertical direction. They had a cumulative lenght of 7’400 mm (25 feet). Our specialists sealed them with stitching pins and added perpendicular locks for extra strength. They then ground the locks and pins flush and made them blend in well with the weathered surface texture of the antique columns.