Blue Ridge Country - March/April 2018 - 57
a book about Virginia's canals," says
Only, shortly after his arrival, a
backhoe unearthed a 60-foot wooden boat while digging in downtown
Richmond's canal basin. Obtaining
permission from the CSX railroad
company, Trout led what amounted
to an amateur archaeological dig and
discovered the first known remains
of a James River bateau. "Up to that
point, all we knew about these boats
came from a few photos and drawings," he says. "So, this was very exciting."
The primary means for transporting tobacco and other goods along
waterways from western parts of the
state to Richmond and other Tidewater gateways, the boats were active
between the mid-1770s to around
1840, and played a major role in the
nation's early economy. Working for
three years, Trout and a crew of volunteers ultimately unearthed dozens
of bateaus from the mud.
Meanwhile, the finds inspired
Trout's friend, Joe Ayers, to build a
replica, which he subsequently floated from the headwaters of the James
River to Richmond in 1985.
"That event led to the founding
of the James River Bateau Festival,
which has since grown to include
20 bateaus, and has been held each
June for the past 32 years," says
Trout, who served numerous terms
as the festival's president before stepping down in 2016.
In the years following the discovery of the first bateaus, Trout compiled river atlases for 20 major waterways in the mountainous regions
of Virginia, West Virginia, and North
Carolina, including the James, New,
Roanoke, and French Broad Rivers.
With the help of his wife, Nancy,
Trout would travel to the headwaters
of each river and slowly, surely, walk
or canoe to where they met their
last major port city or town. Along
the way, he looked for historical
features-former native American
fish dams, canal culverts and locks,
sluices, that sort of thing-and plotted them on a topographical map replete with mile-markers and GPS co-
Built by the James River & Kanawha Canal in 1839, this
stone arch bridge is located in downtown Lynchburg,
Virginia, on 9th Street.
5 CAN'T-MISS VIRGINIA CANALS AND LOCKS
* Battery Creek Lock, Bedford- As a relic of the James River and Kanawha Canal, the lock dates
to around 1848. It is one-hundred feet long, 15 feet wide and 25 feet deep, and was restored in the
mid-1960s. Its name derives from the creek that is routed through it.
*The Canal Park, Lynchburg- Currently under development, the Canal Park is located in downtown Lynchburg and features a walking trail with two photo-worthy bookends. Under 9th Street,
there is a beautiful stone arch bridge built by the JR&KC in 1839. Up the trail lay the ruins of the
Blackwater Creek Aqueduct, which once carried the canal over the creek's waters, which spill into
the James River.
*Humpback Bridge, Covington- West of Covington stands Humpback Bridge, the last of
three structures built over Dunlop Creek by the JR&K Turnpike in 1857. Covered and arched, the
108-foot-long wooden bridge is considered the last of its type in the country.
* Ben Salem Lock, Lexington- Ben Salem is the best known 'work of art' of the North River Navigation on the Maury River. Accommodating boats up to 15 feet wide and 95 feet long, the lock
allowed rivermen to navigate the nine-and-a-half-foot drop caused by a dam.
* Zimmerman's Lock, Buena Vista- Located on the towpath beside the 7-mile Chessie Nature
Trail, which links Lexington and Buena Vista. Interestingly, when the North River Navigation
closed in the late-1800s, Buena Vista had a pair of turbines installed in the lock's chamber. Thus,
the lock floor is obscured by the generator.
ordinates. Then, he would visit town
libraries and talk with historians,
seeking to learn all he could about a
"We wanted the atlases to be part
river guide, part history book," he
says. "So, they're filled with lots of
annotations and historical information."
While timelines varied by project, Trout says it took at least a year
to map each river. "We did a lot of
camping," he says. "We got to spend
loads of time outdoors, saw miles of
beautiful rivers, and met so many
good people in the process. It was
Reflecting on his career in canals,
even at age 80, Trout prefers to look
forward. "The thing I'm focusing on
now is partnering with schools to get
kids out visiting canal systems and
maybe even on a bateau," he says.
"Many of them have never been on
a river before and, to my mind, the
best way to get them to care about
our waterways is to let them experience them first hand."
March/April 2018 57