Old Lock Pump House, Chesapeake & Delaware Canal
Bethel Road (MD 286), Chesapeake City, Cecil County
The Old Lock Pump House was originally located on an island between Back Creek and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal on the one side, and Broad Creek, which was made into a holding basin filled by a tide lock from Back Creek, on the other. In 1837 there was only one building on the site, the Old Steam House, which housed an old steam engine and boilers used to fill the locks. By 1851, numerous additions had been made. Directly adjacent to and west of the old steam house was built the new engine house. To the east of this engine house was the wheel house with its gigantic lift wheel. In 1854, a new engine was placed on the east side of the wheel house. This new engine more than doubled the pumping capacity of the original installation. The complex, completed in 1854, contains the great lift wheel, which is 38 feet in diameter and capable of pumping 20,000 gallons (or 130 tons) of water per minute making only 1 1/2 revolutions. The two engines, installed in 1851 and 1854, were both built by Merrick and Sons of Philadelphia. The gigantic wheel is encased in a stone wall originally 18'-8" wide, and 22' deep, into which water was led through a tunnel from nearby Back Creek. The locks were rebuilt in 1853-54 following the installation of the lift wheel pumping plant at Chesapeake City. In 1856 all roofs in the complex were destroyed by fire. The roofs were replaced and remain today, except the roof in place atop the oldest building, the Old Steam House. At present there are five buildings joined together, which make up the Old Lock Pump House complex. Built at separate times, the five structures demonstrated some advanced planning for they fit together in one harmonious unit and have one basic design.
The Old Lock Pump House at South Chesapeake City is unique in that it is largely intact and the heavy machinery in it has hardly been changed since its installation 150 years ago. Long preserved and made available to the public by the Corps of Engineers, the Old Lock Pump House had the added distinction of being probably one of the first engineering monuments recognized as such in this country. Between 1800 and 1826 there were more than four attempts at constructing a canal across the Delmarva Peninsula, all of which were aborted: one attempt occurred in 1804-06 but failed due to lack of money. Another effort was scuttled in 1824. Numerous surveys were conducted in the periods of interlude and two other routes were proposed before the final present route was accepted. By October 17, 1829, the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal had finally been completed.