A richly historic man made waterway, the Great Dismal Swamp Canal MegaSite  is dedicated to the enslaved and free men that built the oldest  made waterway in America.  Now recognized as part of the National Underground Railroad, this historic waterway is a national treasure and the basis of this website.

Halfway House Dismal Swamp Canal
Halfway House VA/NC Border
Great Dismal Swamp Home Page
Our Historical Treasure
 By:  Bill Agreste

March 10, 2004

Severe budget cuts threaten the entire Intracoastal Waterway.     Hit especially hard is the Great Dismal Swamp Canal,  the oldest operating man made waterway in the United States.    The Dismal Swamp has been described both as "Paradise", by General George Washington, and "A continuous quagmire - a filthy bog in a vast body of nastiness", by Col. William Byrd in 1798.    Whatever it was then, it is certainly now Paradise!   There is a kindred like spirit in this swamp that connects with any visitor that stops by and gazes into the great wilderness and Canal along route 17 near the N.C. and Virginia border.

Unfortunately,  severe budget cuts now threaten this wonderful testament to the history of Virginia and North Carolina.    There is a great deal of lore associated with the Great Dismal Swamp.   A young and tenderly heartbroken Robert Frost once ventured into it's vast wilderness in search of immanent disaster to befall him and relieve him of his misadventure with love. Fortunately for our poetic well being, broken hearts do mend and Robert Frost eventually rode out of the swamp on a canal boat using his last dollar in fare.

Situated on the N.C. and Virginia line was the 1830's  hotel known as the Halfway House.    "A quality place for sleeping, matrimonial celebrations,  and of course, duelistical engagements for the settling of disagreements".    Situated evenly on the North Carolina and Virginia state line,  it is the one place where the long arm of the law came up short as an outlaw simply hopped across the line to avoid arrest.   It's the place where a newlyweds could hold hands from different states and occasionally meet in the middle for a kiss on the lips.  Between Gunfights, Marriages and occasional Lawlessness,  it is also rumored that Edgar Allen Poe wrote "The Raven" while staying at the Halfway House.

The Great Dismal Swamp was the lure of many men seeking fortune from the vast land and abundant natural supply of valuable lumber.   One such man,  Moses White is rumored to have made over $1,000.000.00 here in the swamp from harvesting Juniper Timber.   His mill was in operation until the 1950's and a small part of it still stands off Rt. 158 in Pasquotank County.    One of the first and most famous  business supporters of the Great Dismal Swamp was George Washington  himself.   It was his suggestion to build the actual Canal which was begun in 1793.  There is  now a system of Canals and Ditches including a feeder ditch from Lake Drummond (approximate center of the swamp) which keeps the system supplied with water.  Visitors to Lake Drummond describe it as an ancient place where time has stood still.  George Washington was very much involved in the development of the Great Dismal Swamp.  Owning a large amount of acreage in the Swamp,  he personally supervised much of the drainage and logging operations.    One of the first monuments to George Washington is the Washington Ditch that still bears his name.    William Byrd II,  a notable and colorful statesman also explored deep into the swamp.  He was a commission member in the 1728 survey to establish the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia.   While much of the swamp as been developed since the old days,   the core of the Great Dismal Swamp remains intact and much of it has been deeded to the U.S. Department of the interior by the Union Camp Corporation.   "It should forever remain intact and undeveloped" as per the deed agreement required by the Union Camp Corporation (good thinking Union Camp)!

The Dismal Swamp Canal's  first vessel was a shingle flat which christened the canal with the first  voyage in 1805.   The steamship Thomas Newton  was one of many steam vessels to carry freight and passengers through the Great Dismal Swamp.   A very unfortunate incident destroyed the Thomas Newton when a load of lime caught on fire after accidentally getting  wet.       The Canal was the primary method of transferring people and products across the North Carolina and Virginia borders.   It connects Deep Creek in Chesapeake with Elizabeth City in North Carolina.    Products frequently transported included Timber,  Shingles,  Tobacco, Farm Products and Textiles, just to name a few.    Today, boats from all over the world make this passage when traveling through this historic part of the Intracostal  Waterway.

Over the last 200 years,  the Great Dismal Swamp and Canal have served our country and remains a great historical treasure to our area.      It is a waterway that deserves to be maintained and treasured just like any other national historical monument.   The canal will celebrate it's actual 200th birthday in 2005.  It would be such a pity for the Great Dismal Swamp to close just prior to it's 200th year celebration!

 Readers are encouraged to immediately phone or fax Congressional Representatives to request  continued funding for the Great Dismal Swamp.   Only minimal funding is necessary to keep the canal open.   Unless funding is restored, this historic waterway will be closed at the end of this summer.  Your immediate action is needed.


Copyright © 2009  William Agreste