History ~ Old’s Point, Chesapeake

It’s not there anymore. You can still see the traces of a path leading to where it was if you stand on Mt. Pleasant Road near Butts Road Elementary School. But a hundred years or so ago when canal transport was cheaper and faster than by rutted dirt roads, Olds Point possessed docks, even a small warehouse, where local farmers shipped crops, received supplies and boys skinny dipped.

Early on the morning of May 11, 1872, the little canal steamer Rotary, a 196 ton steam-turbine powered vessel, was chugging up the Chesapeake & Albemarle Canal from Murfreesboro. Having run aground earlier, and trying to make up lost time, engineer tried to get a bit more power out of the engine than was possible.

As the steamer passed Olds Point, the boiler head blew off. The explosion blew the engine house, pilot house and everything on the deck to smithereens. Barrels of fish bound for northern markets floated in the canal for miles, and pieces of the boat were blown as far at 60 yards away. The splintered metal and wood blocked canal traffic for three days.

Most tragic, the speeding engineer, William Walke, his wife, sister and child, who were returning to their home after visiting relatives in Currituck County, were killed in the explosion. The Captain escaped with only a bruised leg and the other crew members suffered only minor injuries.


  1. William J says:

    Very informative article on Olds Point.

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