Marshall Parks, Sr.
The Dismal Swamp Canal, located about six miles west of here, officially opened in 1805. Dug completely by hand, its shallow depth limited navigation to flat boats and lighters manually poled or towed from a path alongside the canal.
Steam power and demand for timber due to growth of the Gosport Navy Yard prompted the need for improvements to the canal. In the 1820s, under the leadership of Marshall Parks, Sr., the Superintendent and Chief Engineer of the Dismal Swamp Canal Company, the old canal was widened and deepened to accommodate the type of small steam vessel pictured above.
Marshall Parks, Jr.
When his father died in 1840, Marshall Parks, Jr., at the age of 19, succeeded him as an official of the Dismal Swamp Canal Company.
He not only inherited his father's interest in steam navigation, he envisioned and successfully promoted a wider, deeper and more direct route between the Elizabeth River and the Albemarle Sound. It followed the same course as a 1772 survey authorized by John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, Virginia's last royal governor.
Using powerful steam dredges assembled by Parks, construction began in 1855 during a major yellow fever epidemic that virtually paralyzed Hampton Roads, but under Parks' leadership the new Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal opened in 1859.
Marshall Parks, Jr. achieved an engineering marvel. Known as Commodore Parks, he built two more canals and a railroad. He was an inventor, steamboat owner, captain, entrepreneur and developer. He envisioned and advocated the development of an inland waterway system running from Maine to Florida, today's Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.