A brief history
Consistently listed among the most expensive counties in the United States to live in, Montgomery County hugs the west side of Washington, D.C. and is home to many industry leaders, especially in the biotech field. You can find city shopping centers that rival any large metropolitan area and awe-inspiring skyscrapers that don’t just look like pick-and-place rectangles. But for all of the modern conveniences and allure, the area has a lot of misunderstood history ready to be explored.
Public education in America often starts its US history lesson with “the shot heard ’round the world” and ends around the shot from John Wilkes Booth’s gun. Unless we use our own time to research, we miss out on the gritty, labor-heavy endeavors that existed outside of our many wars.
In an effort to connect the eastern shore with the Ohio River Valley, President George Washington advocated for a canal system to be built around the Potomac River to help boats traverse its several waterfalls. 50 years and several leadership changes later, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O) finally opened in 1830. It held on for almost 100 years, finally connecting as far as Georgetown to Cumberland, but due to some bad flooding and the rise in popularity of the automobile, had to close in 1924. Today, an organization seeks to maintain the parkland that the C&O Canal and its towpath exist on. Among the attractions are several lockhouses, where keepers would live to raise and lower the locks at moment’s notice for boats traveling by. We had the chance to stay in one of the houses, Lockhouse 6, for a weekend.
Our lockhouse sat on the side of the Clara Barton Parkway, which runs one way during parts of the day, and both ways during other parts of the day. This is fine, because it enabled us to arrive later in the evening and avoid rush hour on the Beltway. Siri took us into a turn too early and that caused us to revert all the way back to I-495 before revisiting the map and seeing our stop was only a few minutes past where she originally told us to turn left. This would come back to annoy us once or twice more as the only way to get to that side of the road was to drive fifteen minutes out of the way just to get on the correct side of the barrier. By the end of the weekend, I had started from further down the road and just popped a U-ey in the middle of the street before we got to the barrier.
The cottage sits almost directly on the canal with a lock on one side and a small stream on the other. Back on the opposite side of the Clara Barton Parkway, atop a hill were large, eccentric houses, pretentiously looking down on us common folk (we ended up on top of the hill during one of our drives and passed one of the houses that had an armada of Teslas pouring out of their driveway.) We checked ourselves in with a lockbox and checked out our home for the weekend. It was cozy, clean, and decorated like the 1950s never ended (seriously, there was chinaware with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s face on it.) There was one downside, however; it looked 100% like the set of a movie where a young couple would be killed by a ghost during a weekend getaway. The bathroom was downstairs in the
dungeon basement. Other than having to doublecheck behind every door before bed for the lingering spirit of the former lock keeper, it was nice.
What to do
The area doesn’t have a shortage of things to do, but staying here in the winter and during a COVID-lockdown makes things a bit difficult. With everything within 15 minutes driving, we drove over to Bethesda Row to look for a late night dinner before things were all closed and had to revert to cooking after a day of work, packing, and driving. We grabbed a delicious Mexican meal at Uncle Julio’s, a multi-state chain-restaurant, before retiring back to the cottage to catch up on some reading and grab some Zzz’s for the next day.
The C&O towpath is a great place for an easy nature walk; it is flat and topped with soft dirt. We bundled up (it was about 30°F) and started to trek north, encountering a group of kayakers coming out of the nearby Potomac River. None of them seemed happy or satisfied with their feat. They just had a look on their face like “why did I do that?”
The dirt had frozen over and we shuffled along at a leisurely pace pointing out pairs of ducks and generally taking it easy. After an hour-or-so long walk, we lounged around the lockhouse a bit longer, catching up on more reading and I turned on our 50s-style radio to listen to the Capitals hockey game and some Tony Bennet.
We never really got hungry again, but were worried we might, so we headed back into the city to do some mild shopping. The whole area was very COVID-conscious, everyone wore their masks with regard to others and there was plenty of hand sanitizer available at each establishment. I’ve been reading a book about a family’s venture through Japan and its culinary history, so naturally I had a predisposition towards sushi that evening. A quick Google search, and we found a highly-recommended place to make reservations. I waited a little longer than I should have, so our wait time was pushed a little further than expected. No worries, I came across a mezcal bar that we could check out in the mean time.
We took a 15-minute walk over to Gringos and Mariachis. This place had a cool, trendy vibe to it – a mural-coated brick wall, antique liquor cabinets, and rustic wood décor. Our server was super nice and very knowledgeable about their cocktails. We talked briefly about how chartreuse liqueur balances perfectly with a clean mezcal in drinks and understood our ask to adjust the amount of agave syrup in a margarita to make it a little less sweet. I 100% recommend checking out this place if you’re in the area.
As our reservation time came closer, we strolled back towards Raku, where we were now getting excited to eat because our bellies were starting to wake up by now. Again, remarkable service and delicious sushi were a perfect nightcap to the evening.
The next morning, before returning home, we stopped by Praline Bakery & Bistro, and picked up a couple danishes and some macaroons with the most perfect shell I’ve ever had.
The drive back wasn’t bad at all. Traffic was pretty fluid and non-troublesome the whole weekend, which made getting home a piece of cake. Or a piece of apricot pistachio danish, if you prefer.