Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Melissa Bingmann.

Committee Co-Chair

Ken Fones-Wolf

Committee Member

Larry Sypolt


I have come to understand the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal as two different entities, both of which occupy the same geographic space. The first is a nineteenth century transportation system that impacted thousands of people in the Potomac River Valley. The second is the reincarnation of the first as a National Historical Park. The first is a busy, messy, and noisy landscape. The second serves as a refuge for the urban masses, and only faintly resembles its predecessor. This thesis seeks to understand how one evolved into the other.;Upon further inspection, one discovers that C&O Canal National Historical Park balances a precarious equilibrium of three competing efforts: historic preservation, natural preservation, and recreational development. The challenge is to understand how these visions emerged, transformed the landscape, and reflect changing social, political, and cultural forces.;The transformation of the C&O Canal did not occur overnight, but over the course of several decades. I focus on the period 1938 to 1942, when the federal government initially purchased the canal and New Deal relief workers focused on rewatering the first 22 miles of the canal. I approach the preservation of the canal as mode of cultural production to gain a deeper understanding of how the park looks and functions today.;During the New Deal era, the federal government became involved in the historic preservation field and emerged as its leader under the auspices of the National Park Service. The C&O Canal offers a useful case study for early federal historic preservation efforts, and shows how social, cultural, and political movements of the time transformed the canal into a park.