Great Bridge Amphitheater Medallion


Great Bridge Amphitheater Medallion

The vessel CALYPSO has been chosen by Virginia Canals and Navigations Society to represent the spirit of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal because she was the first vessel to transit the finished Canal in 1859. She towed the newly constructed iron barge Enterprise southward for its new owners in Wilmington North Carolina, Messer’s. Richard Smith and J.H. Anthony.

Made famous by Edward C. Bruce in his wood cut drawings of the time, Calypso is described as a “pony steamboat” fifty feet long and nine feet wide, displacing 10 tons. She was equipped with a high pressure oscillating steam engine, which turned side paddle wheels and gave her a speed of nine miles per hour. Records show she was the first floating acquisition of the A&C Canal Company, after the dredges, being purchased in 1858 for $1,194.84. It served as a general support and passenger vessel during the canal construction and as a Company tug afterwards.

Calypso is assumed to have suffered the ignominious fate of having been scuttled in the canal along with all of the other Canal Company’s floating units in attempts to block the canal during the War Between the States.

Calypso information taken and condensed from the book JUNIPER WATERWAY by Alexander Crosby Brown

During the Annual Meeting last year, 2005, when we met in Chesapeake to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Dismal Swamp Canal, we made a bus tour and stopped by the Great Bridge Lock of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal. We were hosted there by Jean Carideo and during her tour she told us of a project just getting underway sponsored by the U.S. National Park Service called the Chesapeake Bay Gateway Program. The aim of this program was to make the many entrances of the Chesapeake Bay more visible and open to the public. One of the improvements in the Great Bridge area was to build an earthen berm in Lock Park near the east end of the lock to enable visitors to see over into the lock, watch the operation of the gates and watch the boats as they passed through. An estimated 256,000 people visited this park in 2005. On the north side of the berm was to be a small circular amphitheater partially surrounded by seats made from blocks of cut granite left over from the old stone lock building era. In the middle of the circle she proposed that VCNS place (sponsor) a circular emblem made of appropriate colored tile which would commemorate some significant event during the history of the A&C Canal. Right away the VCNS members present thought it was a super idea and settled on the idea of a circular emblem with VCNS logo lettering around the perimeter and the little 65 foot steam paddle wheel tug named Calypso be chosen to occupy the middle. Calypso was the first vessel to transit the finished A & C Canal in 1859. The dollar figure settled on there was estimated to be @ $2,000.00. The design of the tile emblem was left up to the Canal Society. Waterman Will Turnage volunteered to take on the job and he later sent the finished drawing to me, which was conveyed to Ms. Carideo. We sent out notification of the project and started collecting donations from the membership. Captain Bill Spaur of Deep Creek volunteered to be recipient of the donations and to manage the fund. Money has been slow coming in. Thus far $900.00 has been donated. I was not present when the later decision was made with the Park Service project managers but the design was later changed to recommend a more durable emblem made from metal (bronze) but to retain the same recommended motif. A foundry had been consulted and the price of $4,007.00 was given with a prepay requirement.

I have interceded on behalf of VCNS and offered to come through with our original bargain to furnish the $2,000.00 and have the Park Service fund the difference. We are still in negotiations. At the VCNS Board Meeting on August 26, 2006, the Trustees voted to have the treasury make up the difference ($1,100.00) and make it available to the project when needed so it can be completed. We will continue appealing for donations from the membership. VCNS Treasurer will now manage the funds.

Please send any donations for the support of this endeavour to:

Atwill Melton
Treasurer, VCNS
1587 Larkin Mountain Road
Amherst, VA 24521
(Make note it is for the Great Bridge medallion)

George Ramsey
Southeast Virginia Director
Virginia Canals and Navigations Society

Click here to return to the front page: