Watercolors Reveal Early Canal Life: How One Painter Helped Inform Our Canal Plan

In the collection of the Maryland Historical Society are 52 watercolor paintings by John Louis Wellington (1878-1965). Although not much is known about the Cumberland, Maryland native, Wellington’s watercolors captured many types of scenes along the C&O Canal in the early part of the 20th century. While there are many landscapes – or should we say canalscapes – showing bridges, trains, mules, and people utilizing the canal for transportation, two images of particular interest to Georgetown Heritage have directly informed the current project to build a brand new canal boat, due to arrive this coming spring.  

Wellington’s watercolor titled Cumberland Boatyard (above) shows men repairing or possibly building a canal boat. Two men work topside, while others stand below, seemingly in discussion about the underside as they point and look. This is a scene that has been repeated many times over the past several months, as the new Georgetown Heritage canal boat takes shape at Roudebush Boat & Engine Works in Dundalk, Maryland.

The second watercolor (above) of Two Little Sisters has young canal boat residents, their hair neatly parted and held in place with twists, standing near the cabin, where the family would live together while working the C&O Canal.  Although a charming picture of the time, Georgetown Heritage was most interested in this watercolor as a historic document: the color of the canal boat trim in Two Little Sisters was one of the historic artifacts used to determine the trim color for the new boat. Both historic and reflective of an interest in “green” technology – the boat will have two electric motors for propulsion when the mules are not on site – the kelly green color will be a fresh color scheme for the new boat. The previous and last canal boat, The Georgetown, was painted red, white, and blue.  

A new boat for a new era, with a historic pedigree thanks to a watercolor artist who loved the C&O Canal and left behind a collection of exquisite hand-painted scenes. 

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