Frederick Otto Swain

Frederick Otto Swain

Death 19 Mar 2001 (aged 63)
Germantown, Montgomery County, Maryland, USA
Burial Beallsville, Montgomery County, Maryland, USA
Plot Row A, Lot 44 Upper, Site 3
Memorial ID 40526318 · View Source
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- Robert Lee Swain [1905-1967]
- Virginia Mae (Stang) Swain [1915-1992]

Married Patricia Ann Swain

- Deborah Lynn Swain

The Gazette - March 28, 2001

Potomac lost another link to its rural past last week with the death of Frederick O. Swain.

The lifelong resident of Swain's Lock, a section of the C&O Canal named for his family that is today a part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, died March 19. He was 63.

The cause of death remains undetermined pending completion of a report from the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore.

A funeral service was held Friday at DeVol Funeral Home in Gaithersburg with burial at Monocacy Cemetery in Beallsville.

Those who knew Swain say his death leaves a void.

"He was a very kind and gentle person," said Elie Pisarra, a Potomac fixture herself who was a classmate of Swain's at Potomac Elementary School. "He ran an old-fashioned wonderful business. He was always there to greet you. We'll all miss him."

Swain's involvement with the lock, where he ran a concession stand, was the latest incarnation of a family tie to the C&O Canal that extends back five generations. It coincides with the inception of what would eventually be 184.5 miles of artificial waterway linking Washington, D.C. to Cumberland via the Potomac River. The canal ceased operation in 1924, and reopened as a park in 1939.

Swain's family plans to maintain its continuous connection to the lock.

"The family is committed to keeping the lock in the Swain family, but a lot of things need to be worked out," said Bert Swain, Fred's brother. "We're five or six years from being there 100 years. I want to see that happen."

One of those details is implementing new concession guidelines that would be in place this summer, said Douglas Faris, superintendent of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

"We need to meet with the family and discuss this," Faris said. "Fred was an institution on the canal [but] he was unsure about what he wanted to do."

During an interview with The Gazette in July, Swain said his ancestors were among the thousands of European laborers brought to the United States by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company to carve out what was to be a reliable coal-hauling route from Western Maryland to Georgetown.

With the waterway's completion, the Swain relationship evolved with employment in canal maintenance and running boats, and in 1907, Jesse Swain's appointment as tender of the lock off River Road that bears the family's name.

When the canal was dedicated as a national park in 1939, the Swain connection remained. Family members, including Fred, who was one of Jesse's grandsons, continued to live in the six-room 1830 lock house leased from the National Park Service.

A concession stand was built beside the lock, and seven days a week from March through November, a Swain relation -- in recent years, usually Fred -- could be found selling bait and refreshments and renting out canoes, kayaks, paddle boats and bikes.

While two of his brothers and sister moved away, the beauty and tranquility of the lock maintained a stronger hold on Fred, a retired maintenance foreman at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

"Potomac has changed dramatically, but the lock always stayed the same. When you turn off River Road, it's a step back in time. It's a beautiful spot and Bubba was always there. It was a major part of him," said Bert Swain, a CPA in Rockville, referring to his brother with the nickname used by "those who really, really knew him."

But last summer during a lull in his business, Fred Swain was questioning how much longer he could continue. Required to carry $1 million in liability insurance, Swain had started selling his fleet of canoes to help cover the $10,000 a year premium.

"You can't make a living doing this," he said last year.

Bert Swain doesn't think his brother ever would have left.

"It was his thing. People look at it as a business, but that's a fallacy for my brother. It was his pride, his purpose. It was everything to him," Bert Swain said. "I think if the insurance premiums were twice that, my brother would still be there."

Fred Swain is survived by his wife, Beverly; daughter Deborah Lynn Sheckles; stepchildren Alice and Wanda Kasmarzyk; brothers Robert Jr. and Bert; sister Barbara Swain Raver; and three grandchildren.

Swain's first wife, Patricia Ann, predeceased him.

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  • Created by: Glenn Wallace
  • Added: 10 Aug 2009
  • Find a Grave Memorial 40526318
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Frederick Otto Swain (19 Oct 1937–19 Mar 2001), Find a Grave Memorial no. 40526318, citing Monocacy Cemetery, Beallsville, Montgomery County, Maryland, USA ; Maintained by Glenn Wallace (contributor 46802463) .