The Buchanan “Big Dig” Gauge Dock Project

005On Tuesday, December 3rd, the Town of Buchanan started work to uncover one of its buried treasures, the Buchanan Gauge Dock.

For years the Town has tossed around to idea of exploring the buried gauge dock located under the Town Park on Lowe Street. The gauge dock had become a forgotten relic of the James River & Kanawha Canal when it was buried in the mid 1900s.

In the spring of 2013 the Mayor and members of the Buchanan Planning Commission traveled to Big Island off of the Blue Ridge Parkway to view the lock as an example of what might be found on the Buchanan Park. The group left with great enthusiasm and the Mayor presented a proposal to uncover the gauge dock to the Buchanan Town Council who approved the dig.

Next a meeting was held at the Buchanan Town Hall inviting the public and interested parties in the gauge dock to attend. A broad spectrum of interested individuals took part in this initial meeting including Botetourt County Board of Supervisor Representative Terry Austin, representatives from Engineering Concepts, representatives from the Virginia Canals and Navigation Society, representatives of the James River Association, a representative from the Fincastle Herald as well as residents from throughout the community.   As part of the meeting the group came up with a “game plan” to explore the Buchanan site. 

The first step was for representatives from the Town of Buchanan, Botetourt County and Engineering Concepts met with the Jeanne Richardson of the Army Core of Engineers and Jay Roberts of DEQ to discuss necessary permits for the Gauge Dock Site. Both representatives stated at this time we do not need a permit from their offices, however, they advised that the Town contact the Department of Historic Resources.

Following this ad007vice, the Town contacted Tom Klatka, Archeologist for the Western Regional Preservation Office serving Southwest Virginia and the Lower Piedmont. Since he would be reviewing any reports the Town submits he can not be part of the dig. Tom suggested the Town contact Michelle Zulauf of Appalachian Archaeological Consulting, LLC. Michelle agreed to be here during the investigatory dig scheduled for Tuesday, December 3rd at 9:00 am. Michelle observed the dig, reviewed the soil and will give the Town a follow up report for the Department of Historic Resources.  

John Manspile001 has volunteered his time and equipment to head up the excavating with assistance from Town Employees and additional use of equipment from Botetourt County.

To date the efforts have uncovered the gauge dock cap approximately two feet under the current soil level. The gauge dock turns out to be much larger than anticipated. Initial property records suggested the gauge dock would be 15 feet wide, however, the dig has found that the interior of the gauge dock is 29 feet wide. So far work has uncovered a length of approximately 75 feet in length.

Due to the rains002 the dig has been halted until the soil can dry out. As work proceeds we will continue to update this page and add photographs.

The Town has forwarded progress reports and photographs to Dr. William Trout, author of the “Upper James Atlas.” Dr. Trout has invested many years researching the James River & Kanawha Canal and is considered one of the most knowledgeable authorities on the topic.

In his responses to the Town Dr. Trout has suggested several areas of interest the Town may wish to investigate as we continue to excavate the gauge dock for guidance as well as assistance as the Town looks forward to developing interpretive signage for the site in the future.