Group seeks historic status for 'Indian' canal

February 25, 1994|By Jody Roesler | Jody Roesler,Special to The Sun

Although no one is positive who built it, the "Indian" canal that once connected Bodkin Creek to the Chesapeake Bay may soon be a historic site.

The Pinehurst on the Bay-Bodkin Community Association is working to have the centuries-old canal, at the northeastern border of what is now Downs Park, placed on the Maryland Historical Trust's register of historic sites.

The V-shaped canal, dubbed "Indian" because children used to find arrowheads while playing near its edge, is 500 yards long and 12 feet deep.

The man-made waterway runs from the edge of the Chesapeake to Locust Cove, off Bodkin Creek.

Association Secretary Brian Brooks said the canal was used as a shortcut for people to get to the bay from Bodkin Creek, but he's not sure exactly who built it. The canal cuts across a peninsula separating Bodkin Creek from the bay just below the mouth of the Patapsco.

"One theory is that the Indians built it to use the fishing grounds of the bay and bypass the mouth of the Patapsco to get back to Bodkin Creek," Mr. Brooks said. "The mouth of the Patapsco is the second-widest part of the bay and is very windy and choppy.

"The other theory is that it was built by slave laborers for settlers in the 1700s for the same reason. They wanted to move logs from Bodkin to the bay a mile farther south than the Potomac," he said.

About a year ago, the association invited county archaeologist Al Lukenbach to visit the canal, which is now closed off at the bay by a sandbar.

He came up with another answer.

"I wrote a fact sheet concluding that the canal was probably built by a man named John Gibson in the late 1700s or early 1800s," Mr. Lukenbach said. "The first mention of it was in a deed when Gibson sold the land to Charles Carroll in 1810."

Mr. Lukenbach said it was referred to as the "old canal" in a deed written in 1869 and was probably out of use by then.

Association Treasurer John Mogey said his group is filling out the application forms to begin the process of winning a historic designation for the canal.

The association has been trying to protect the canal from a developer planning to build 12 houses on 60 acres that include a portion of the canal.

If the canal is declared historic, Mr. Mogey said, "development of that bit of property would have to be approved by the archaeologist and presumably by the committee that looks after . . . historical places in the state."

"We will have to make an argument about why the place is special and write up a statement," Mr. Mogey said.

Mr. Brooks said the group would like to put up a marker. But, he said, "the first thing is to get it protected."

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