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About the Charles F. Mercer

September 9, 2006, following a two-year fundraising effort, the Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern christened and launched the replica, double-decked canal packet boat, Charles F. Mercer at Lock 20, Potomac, MD, beginning the first of what is expected to be at least 30 seasons of passenger service.

The Charles F. Mercer includes superstructure features typical of the double-decked packet boats that plied the C&O during 19th and early 20th centuries. These features include an enclosed cabin and deckhouses running substantially the length of the boat with an additional topside, day deck built into the cabin roof and, in turn, covered by a single continuous, canvas canopy.

For purposes of longevity and maintenance, the Mercer is built on a painted aluminum hull with wooden rails and a fully cedar super-structure. The Mercer is 57' at water line with a beam of 13'.

Twenty to thirty feet shorter than the maximum waterline length permitted by the depth of the C&O lift locks (about 85'), these dimensions are authentic to packet boats of the era which were typically smaller, lighter and faster than contemporary freight and line boats.

In addition, the 57 foot length permits the boat to be turned 180° in the canal waters proximate to Lock 20. This fact, in turn, permitted the boat to built on a single rudder design, in fact more common to the packet boats of the Canal's most active era.

How It Came To Pass

In 2003, after 30 years of faithful service the replica freight boat Canal Clipper III was permanently retired.

Although the Park Service commissioned studies for a proposed replacement, no park funds were available to undertake the project, and it looked like Great Falls and Lock 20 might be without a canal boat for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately for all, the 3rd grade class of Seven Locks Elementary School found this prospect unacceptable. Over the Spring of 2004, without any outside support or direction, the students raised $2,000.00 towards the construction of a new canal boat.

Motivated by the kids' enthusiasm, in November of 2004, the Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern launched a community wide campaign to raise the $545,000 required to bring a canal boat back to the Great Falls site.

In May of 2005 the fund was officially opened with receipt of the 3rd graders' $2,000 followed shortly by a $50,000.00 grant from the C&O Canal Association as well as $200,000 grant from the State of Maryland.

Over the next 6 months donations flowed in from literally hundreds of local businesses, residents and park visitors, and by early 2006 the fund was almost 85% the way to its final goal.

Confident they would reach their goal, in March of 2006, following an extensive review of Mid-Atlantic boatyards, the Canal Boat Steering Committee selected Scarano Boat Builders, Albany NY and commissioned a then unnamed 57' packet boat.

Over the next 5 months, members of the steering committee and park staff paid regular visits to Albany to watch the boat take shape.

On August 29, 2006 the Fund accepted delivery of the replica packet boat, named for Charles F. Mercer, the first president of the C&O Canal. The boat was transferred to a temporary mooring in the C&O on August 30 for final finishing work including attaching the upper day deck and canvas rigging.

Following construction of the permanent mooring/dock and crew training, the new packet boat was officially christened and launched at Lock 20, Potomac, MD beginning the first of what is expected to be at least 30 seasons of passenger service.

Packet Boat Charles F. Mercer

Photo © James W. Moore. Used by permission.

It's hard to believe that it was more than ten years ago when the boat arrived at Great Falls and was dedicated on September 9, 2006. We will continue to accept donations for the Boat Maintenance Fund to help maintain the boat. Current needs include a new canopy for the boat. In addition, the plan for a new canal boat in Georgetown means that additional mules are required. The Friends are raising funds for purchasing one. You can contribute to this project, the other projects of the Friends or become a member on our Membership page.