Susquehanna Canal is part of state's living history

Volunteers/Where good neighbors get together

November 20, 1990|By Ellen Hawks | Ellen Hawks,Evening Sun Staff

THE SUSQUEHANNA Museum of Havre de Grace Inc. is a non-profit organization that was formed on June 15, 1970, to preserve the Lock House and surrounding area of the Susquehanna & Tidewater Canal.

Sally and Dale Woomert are high on the list of the many volunteers who have given much of their time to this restoration, working tirelessly to restore the old Lock House and to simulate life there as it was in the 1800s.

Both act as tour guides to the museum. He is treasurer, board member and its past chairman. She is membership chairman.

Ellsworth Shank is Lock House curator, and his wife, Madelyn, is a volunteer there.

The Susquehanna River drains thousands of acres as it flows from New York through Pennsylvania to Maryland where it empties into the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace.

While this river could have been a major resource for moving materials back in the 1700s, it wasn't navigable in some places. So, a canal was built beside the river from Havre de Grace to Wrightsville, Pa., to create a two-way waterway for settlers to move timber, coal, wheat and other products from points along the river, plus Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Construction began in 1836 and in 1839 the 45-mile canal was completed. It had 28 lift locks where the barges had to wait in bulkheads for the locks to fill so the barges could be raised or lowered to the river level to proceed. The total lift going up river was 233 feet.

A tow path built alongside the canal was for the mules that pulled the barges at a speed of 3 miles per hour. The 45 miles took about two days. Slow but sure, it opened commerce between Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Dale Woomert says that ''other canals, probably four or five, were built along the Susquehanna and all connected to open water travel all the way into New York State.''

However, by 1900, the canals were no longer needed because of the expanded and faster railroads. Little is left except the perfectly placed granite rocks and field stone that lined the locks.

In Havre de Grace, much of this southern terminal of the Susquehanna & Tidewater Canal remains, including the Lock, or Locktender's House, which was restored in 1982 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. There is the pivot bridge, which was used for draught animals and people to cross the canal. The bulkheaded wharf, visible at low tide, is where barges were moored to await a tow up the canal.

Dale Woomert has put his engineering experience to work with others to develop the plans and restore the old canal lock. The group is seeking funds to make replica gates.

Besides giving much of their time to the museum, the Woomerts are a major volunteer resource for their community. He is chairman of the History and Heritage Committee of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, on the board of directors of Harford Hospice Inc., an active member of the Havre de Grace Lions and a consulting engineer.

Sally Woomert is active in the Harford Memorial Hospital auxiliary and works one day a week at the hospice. She delivered for Meals on Wheels until she broke her leg in August.

The two, married in 1975, have seven children between them and 12 grandchildren.

Why do they volunteer? ''For many reasons, some selfish, because we enjoy the activity and the chance to remain productive,'' she says.

The museum board includes Chairman Donald McClure, Rene Lambert, Carol Nemeth, Karen Willis, Lois Gilbert, Virginia Colburn, William Roberts, Ronald Simmons, Steven Sharp, Dale Woomert, Shonn Moore and Norma Montgomery, whose husband Charles is a valued volunteer but not a board member.

The museum is at Conesteo and Erie streets in North Park. Admission is free and it is open every Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. during the summer through October. However, anyone interested may be taken on a tour any Sunday by calling the Woomerts at 1-272-3017; the Montgomerys at 1-939-2686; the Shanks at 1-939-3947 or Colburn at 1-939-2336.

On Dec. 9, the 18th candlelight tour of the historic section of Havre de Grace will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. and will end at the museum's Lock House. ''We will have refreshments and Lock House punch, which is a spicy cider,'' says Montgomery. The tour is $8. For details, call Montgomery or Colburn.

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