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.

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Stone Mileposts Along the Dismal Swamp Canal

By George V. Ramsey


What is their story? Who put them there? When? How did such large chunks of granite-definitely not native to the local area- get there? How were they utilized and when did they become insignificant enough to be discarded and forgotten?

Answers are not easy to come by. Like so much of the history of our early transportation endeavors, these details have apparently been lost to the mists of time. Library and museum personnel are extremely gracious and helpful but no references can be found that deal with this aspect of the Dismal Swamp Canal.

A few clues were gleaned from such archives as the 19th century Board of Public Works annual reports and other special letters and reports. For the most part, they recorded major changes and improvements, fund raising or legal matters. No specific reference to these stones has been found. Books and old photographs from museums and family archives are of great help in developing a likely time line, but, so far, all fail to include any pictures or references to these stones!

Six years ago we began to record the data of all that was known and to search for the unknowns. The collective effort has located ten (+ ½) of the possible 23. (The original canal was almost exactly 22 miles long. We have not located #0 or #22. Did these two ever exist?)

Scattered along the east bank of the Dismal Swamp Canal, near where mile marks would fall if measured south from the Deep Creek lock, are found huge monoliths made of chiseled granite. Large numerals, corresponding to the appropriate mile mark, are engraved into one face of each stone.

The existence of these stones has been no particular secret to those who live along the canal or to the Corps of Engineers and their contract workers who maintain this historic waterway. But few had noticed the numerals or realized their significance. They were objects of curiosity and items of general interest as conversational pieces but to the general public they have been very elusive, secreted away from the casual visitor by the swamp growth. During the summer they were completely hidden but those along the banks occasionally showed themselves during low foliage times.

The stones under water are even more secretive. Due to the "day old coffee" color of the water, visibility of light colored objects is limited to 6" or 8"; dark objects much less.  Some stones could lie just below the surface and not be noticed for years. On those rare occasions when water level was down some of them would show up along the eastern shoreline.

They were usually found resting in an apparently haphazard manner. If planted in the ground, they were usually leaning at some odd angle- only two (#11,21) have been found standing almost vertical. In the water they were lying near horizontally, of course, but two (#14, #19) were at water's edge, partially in the water as if the bank had eroded away from them and they had slowly migrated downward.

These stones are quite large. Those found have measured between 76" and 80" long.  Width and depth vary but average 10" to 14". Each is unique. They are estimated to weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

Number 15 was one of several mile posts that were lost for many years.   This marker was recovered and put back in place by Robert Peaks (Lock Master) and George Ramsey (an major supporter of the Dismal Swamp).   Much thanks to the passion of these gentlemen and the many others that devote time to the care of this wonderful waterway!




Copyright © 2009  William Agreste