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Tom Little - business along the Canal ( more details)

Tom Little - Hancock Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


Ed Wesley:        So your father, after, say 1879, had someone boat for him, and then he—

Tom Little:        Oh, yes, he didn't buy the Enterprise, had it built, right next to him. That'uz in 1881. Boatyard was built in 1880. And he had the Enterprise built in 1881. And he sold it to Mr. Ed Gunn [?] , another boatman lived down here, to William A. Smoot of Alexandria, Virginia for—I think, $200.00. That'uz in 1889. He didn't get the check 'til after the '89 flood.

Ed:        Oh.

Tom: Boat was out in the field down in Montgomery County. I suppose Mr. Smoot, they put it back in, 'cause see, the tugs down there, you know, take the Canal boats to Seventh Street wharf, and over to Alexandria, Virginia, and down at Indian Head—that's a government power plant I understand. The tugboats would take 'em down there. I often heard him talk about Indian Head. But one a' these a boatman here said it's about 40 mile down the river. Well, I didn't know Warshington 'uz that far up.

Ed:        Yeah, if I remember Smoot had a coal yard over on the Alexandria waterfront.

Tom:        Yeah, that's where it was. Yes, these boatin' fellows here, Jim Ellis, can tell you, and so can Jake down here tell you.

Ed:        Your father—after he got into the coal business then built —you're at the east of Hancock?

Tom:        Oh, yeah, we're in the east end. And after he got started the store there, he had a good boat trade. He didn’t stay there by night. And 'course, the boats that had timbers, well the timbers are sticking out there yet, about four feet, we had a platform all along the back of that building, and had a wharf up above. You (chuckle) oughta' see it now. With huge trees all growed up.

Ed:        So he built a little store right down here near your big house?

Tom:        No, he bought the store. Store that used to ship hides for the tanneries —

Ed:        The building was already there?

Tom:       Yes, shipped hides.

Ed:        Tell me a little about these tanneries, then.

Tom:        Well, I couldn't tell you exactly what. Big Cove it was known as, Big Cove tannery, back up in Pennsylvania. Now, there's several other tanneries around. Maybe they'd need more. And they'd build at Wardfordsburg. Now, you're gettin' over at Pennsylvania, you see, we're in the narrow part of the state.

Ed:        And so before your father went into business down here, the tanneries had a store for shipping—

Tom:        Yeah, that's what they used the warehouse for.

Ed:        They shipped hides on the Canal boats?

Tom:        On the C&O Canal.

Ed:        And your father bought that building from them?

Tom:        Yeah, that's who he bought it from—from-a Company in New York. New York & Son must'a been the buyin' and shippin' of the hides.

Ed:        And so after he got the building, he started putting in dry goods and—

Tom:        Oh, he started a general store. He built it up—that'uz in 1888; he—he extended it out 20 feet, and enlarged to two stories, built my brother Ed and myself a bedroom, 'cause the one we had in the front part of the old home over here, and the family 'uz gettin' too big, only just a couple bedrooms.

Ed:       Is that the present building down there? -

Tom:        Present building down there, only 'course the front of it is changed. Then in 1899 we had great big hay sheds built there, and we baled tons of hay--we bought lots of hay from these farmers. We baled tons of hay, and 'course, we shipped most of it on the Canal, up to Johnson, Coulehan, and Fred Mertens, a German boatbuilder in Cumberland up there.

Ed:        They were in Cumberland?

Tom:        They had their own boats, you see. And that hay we baled was handpressed, and it wasn't tight like when —you know, the fielder at that time, why, they had a long arm and a horse to it, and they pressed the hay down to just half the size bales we had. But the boatmen didn't like that tight-pressed grade, and that's the reason they could sell this here loose-pressed—we had hand-pressed. We had to the hand-pressed, 'fore we'uz out of business. But the 1899 flood—that wrecked the Canal. No, it wasn't resuscitated until 1902.

Ed:       After that the boat yard here went out of business.

Tom:        Oh, yes. Yeah, it was out.

Ed:        Let me ask you a little bit about that hay. These dealers you mentioned, like Mertens and Johnson and Coulehan —they were all in Cumberland?

Tom:        All Cumberland merchants.

Ed:        And so—

Tom:        Their owned boats.

Ed:        And they built the hay from you, and shipped it up to Cumberland?

Tom:        All they had to do was put it up on the hatches, take half of one between the hayhouse and the cabin, between the cabin and the stables, put it on just half the length of the hatches, take the other half of the hatches and put over the hay to keep it from getting wet.

Ed:        Oh, I see.

Tom:        Didn't have to have the tarpaulin or any thing like that.

Ed:        When they got it up to Cumberland, they would sell it there to the boatmen?

Tom:        Uh-hum. It was shipped right direct to whoever bought it. But the 89 flood is what wrecked the Canal.


Tom Little, Ed Wesley

Public domain

The photograph is from the Hicks Collection at the C&O Canal Park Headquarters. It shows canal boats in the Potomac River, probably at Georgetown, and a tug at the left of the picture.

Fred Mertens was a prominent Cumberland business man, connected with the Canal. "On April 20, 1880, Fred Mertens completed a telephone line from his office connecting with a line along the Canal to Georgetown. Mr. Mertens had a large number of boats on the Canal and could then tell where any boats were at any time." From Cumberland through the eyes of Herman J. Miller


Collection Location:
C&O National Historic Park

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (Md.); Washington County (Md.), History

Maryland, 1830-1940

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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