Historic Canal House
Where the locals gather and visitors are always welcome.
The Canal House was built circa 1790. Court records show a stone house on the property 1790 and 1803. We believe that this stone structure serves as the Canal House Cafe dining room. We think the brick portion was added in the 1820's. The bricks are brittle, and the type of clay used indicates they were made locally. The Canal House earned its name from the beams used in the brick portion of the home, which are visible when you are in the entrance of the house. This wood was taken from the Shenandoah Canal bateaux, low-slung boats that were used in moving cargo along the Shenandoah River.
In 1807, The Potowmack Company completed the Shenandoah Canal, a 580-yard waterway just above Virginius Island, to help cargo skirt the rapids. Lift locks were erected at the lower end of this canal where the pulp mill ruins now stand. The Shenandoah Canal played a major part in the industrial life of Virginius Island and Harpers Ferry.
The bateaux were dismantled periodically and used for home construction. The Canal House Cafe is one of the earliest examples in Bolivar of this practice. The timber from the bateaux was dragged by mule up Washington Street and used in the construction of this home.
The Cafe has six fireplaces, four of which are still functional. The stone walls are two feet thick. The Cafe now serves its food out of the original kitchen. Beneath the deck and directly under our current kitchen is the summer kitchen.
Between the Bistro and the pantry is an 18-foot, hand-dug stone well that remains replete with water year round, fueled by the area’s numerous springs. Original hitching posts can still be found set in the stonework. The stairs of the house are marked by the spurs for the military that inhabited the town during the Civil War. The house was used for wounded soldiers during the Civil War, as well as for command posts for both sides.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the the Canal House was called “Minnie Brydner’s” General Store. Minnie sold dry goods, meats, and sundries, and her residence was upstairs.
The proprietress is remembered fondly for her large servings of ice cream for good report cards. That tradition is carried on today.
In its almost 200-year history, the Canal House has served as an ordinary, hospital, military barracks, antique store, stained glass studio, boarding house, Montessori school, and today as a Bistro and gathering place for locals and travelers.