C&O Canal Winter Walk

What to do in a “Big Town, Small City” on a sunny but chilly Winter afternoon?


In a town I know, you go to “Beans” for a latte and a muffin served by Anthony who has been there for ever, or Melanie herself, founder and owner, who has been there even longer.

Yes, that’s my idea of a really nice afternoon, hot beverage in pleasing café with a fresh, warm muffin and a conversation with my wife.  That could consume most of the limited daylight hours we get in January.

My dear spouse is made of more ambitious stuff:  “Dear, you know the C&O Canal Towpath is just about a block (two actually) from Beans.” 

I’m not really the type of guy who goes out for a cup of coffee and ends up taking an hour-an-a-half hike.  On the other hand, I can read the handwriting on the wall so we took a nice little walk.  And it actually was quite nice.

I’m not a Brunswick Insider but I am a fan of the town and of my favorite Café, Beans in the Belfry. I know a few shortcuts.  There are two ways to get to the Towpath from Beans, one goes through town, down West Potomac Street to Maple Avenue, turn right, across both sets of railroad tracks, turn right again and follow the signs.  Taking my short cut, you get to see some of Brunswick’s less heralded attractions.  You cross the parking area behind Beans along the New Hope United Methodist Church and take the pedestrian passageway (narrow little alley) to South Maryland Avenue.  Across the street and a little downhill is Railroad Square (looks like a parking area) with a relatively recently acquired caboose, donated to the city by CSX.  It is, as tradition demands, bright red and it’s magnificently restored.  Kids love it and so do railroad buffs.

A few steps further, just before the Railroad Station, brings you to a sad but fascinating memorial, a locomotive bell and a marker stone to three Brunswick Railroaders, “heroes of the P#286”, an engineer, a conductor and an assistant conductor, who died in a terrible railroad crash in 1996, not so long ago, while running the Brunswick to Washington DC commuter train.

Right next to the Station you will surely notice something familiar yet somewhat strange.  Truly, a God send for a velocipedist with tire or gear problems.  An air pump and a very clever set of wrenches and other “bike tools” available for emergency repair or adjustments, each on a steel tether long enough to be useful but short enough to keep them from “walking away”.  All this just a short walk (even by my standards) from my latte and muffin and a shorter distance yet from the towpath.

Not on the towpath, but close and probably familiar to many or most residents of Brunswick, is a spacious picnic area, right next to the boat landing area along the Potomac River.  It was not getting much use as we walked by in late January.  But the actual towpath is simplicity itself, a long, straight level, wooded free place to walk, talk (through your mask) and to breath fresh, non-urban air. 

On a wintery walk, look to your left and you can see the skeletons behind the trees whose lush foliage block the view in the summer. Broken tree casualties, giant trees felled by storms years past that recycle on the ground.  Your gaze reaches all the way to the Potomac River, obscured in the summer, a silvery band that has its origin in the Pennsylvania mountains and crosses the land all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. On the right side, the winter bleakness exposes invasive climbers with a few leaves still hanging on, drawing nourishment from the stagnant waters in the remnants of the canal.  My lady wishes we could clip them, tear them out, releasing their strangle hold on the trees and allow them to breath as we do, reaching out in Spring, unobstructed by the invasive vines.  It’s a bleak yet fascinating winter scape out there, fallen dormant and awaiting an enchanted prince’s kiss to awaken it back to life. 

There is a café in Paris of which it is said if you sit there long enough you’ll meet everyone you know.  I think the towpath is like that.  You walk long enough, you’ll meet everyone from Brunswick. 

Even when your Towpath sejour is over, there are yet sights to see and things to ponder, like the brick remnants of the old Lock that was used to adjust the water level on the Canal.

As one returns to climb Maple Avenue, there is the uncertainty factor.  Not the Heissenberg principle from nuclear physics, but the one imposed by the undisputable fact that Brunswick is a railroad town.  Trains; long trains; long slow trains; may command and demand your route.  No one I know messes with or has any way around a CSX freight train with a hundred cars.  You just stand and wait, or sit and wait for the train to go through, unless you are a five-year old.  In that case, you hold on to the hand of your grandfather for security and gaze in wonder at the behemoth, and try to decipher the cryptic artwork on the cars created by a street artist maybe from far away, California, Chicago?

The last thing we noticed on our hurry-up and wait excursion were the smart, maintained with military precision, grounds and building of the American Legion on Maple Avenue.  On its retaining walls is the exhortation not to loiter in  fairly standard language.  But this property adds the incentive to obey with a 50 caliber machine gun to its warning! 

These are some of the things you can do on a sunny but chilly winter day in a historic railroad town like Brunswick, a ”Big Town, Small City”.

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Holiday Magic at Beans in the Belfry

There is magic in the air at Beans in the Belfry and more than ever this year with the addition of a hundred year old Wooton Desk that holds a plethora of thoughtful gifts for family members and friends.  The DiPasquale family gathered earlier last week to trim our towering Christmas tree with lights and splendid ornaments.  There are so many tables, trunks, cabinets and shelves laden with artisan candy, chocolates, gourmet coffee beans and teas, cookie cutters, kids’ chef hats – descriptions defy reality – you simply have got to come in and be in the midst of it.

Sunday Holiday Brunch in December 2020

On all four Sundays in December we’ll serve our popular four-course brunch, including Eggs Benedict and Belgian Waffles.  Since our seating is limited during the pandemic, we suggest you call ahead to reserve your table.  Brunch is served from 12noon to 3pm on Sundays in December.  

A Festive Holiday Afternoon Tea

The holidays are the right time to get together with a friend your mother, grandma or aunt and there is no better visit than a traditional tea in our festive holiday setting.  Please make advanced reservations for this four-course delight – we look forward to serving you.


Daily Bonus Giving in December

Our Daily Free Bonus Gift Giving starts on December 1 with a preview the evening before each day’s Bonus Gift.  Purchase must be made during business hours on the day the Bonus Gift is offered either in person, by phone or some items online  We will post our Bonus Offers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ every day.  Have fun with Beans in the Belfry!




Melanie DiPasquale, Proprietor

and team members Dan, Anthony, Anna, Maggie, Jimmy, Cory, Jim and Hanna

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WDVM TV features Beans in the Belfry


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Sadly, our live events just virtual, enjoy some samples

Dear Patrons, Friends and Neighbors,

we trust that we can reschedule our fabulous performers and jammers in the near future when authorities allow congregations of more than 10 people and restaurants to be open again.  Meanwhile, we offer curbside food and beverage deliveries (swing on down if you are nearby 301 834 7178) and have collected some samples of live music events at Beans:

on Sunday, March 15, Craggy Island: 


Jazz Brunch in February 2020, Jazz Connection:


Jazz Brunch, Christiana Drapkin and Bruce Fransen Trio:  

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Prepare for outings on the C&O Canal towpath

Some time ago we became members of the C&O Canal Association.  It was initially a gift from one of our dear regular customers of Beans in the Belfry.  Thank you again Karlen!

C&O Canal picture of mules b&w photo


As members you can sign up to ‘level walk’ to help keep the towpath clean, go on guided walks with a naturalist, join canoe or kayak trips and dinners. It’s been very rewarding.


Just recently their newsletter suggested reading books about the C&O Canal and the people who made it work.  It’s the perfect thing to do on a damp day and you’ll get more out of your next walk or bike ride on the towpath. C&O Canal rest stop for mules and barges b&w photo Here are some suggestions from their January newsletter:

The Geology and Engineering Structures of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, written by William E. Davies, is an invaluable reference for students of the C&O Canal. The 636-page book is a 1989 draft of a lifetime work by Davies, a noted geologist and expert on flooding. Although published after his death and unfinished, this work is a mile-by-mile description of structures and formations along the 184-mile length of the canal. Even though the document is a combination of typewritten pages and hand-written notes, online readers can use the search features of their software to locate relevant material.

C&O canal aquaduct

The Story of The Potomac Refining Company, written by Andrew Clemens, chronicles the history of a company incorporated in 1908 to extract manganese and other minerals from a site along the canal near Dargan Bend at mile 65. Widely advertised to small investors, the company saw its officers indicted for fraud in 1912. The officers were acquitted, but the company entered bankruptcy in 1913.towpath and bridge overpass mules people and barge

Contact Andrew Clemens at andrew.clemens@yahoo.com if you have any questions or comments.

When you are out and about on the towpath near mile marker 55, no towpath trip is complete unless you stop in the little railroad town of Brunswick, right across the railroad tracks.  You’ll find a charming beanshistoric main street and that’s where we are, Beans in the Belfry Meeting Place and Cafe, on 122 West Potomac Street in a century old brick church building.

Have a feel-good meal, espresso drink, refreshing iced or blended drink and a cozy chair or couch to enjoy it all.   Let us know if you have found us and how your visit was.

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