What if - the railroads had taken a different route or never been invented.
What if - the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C & O Canal) had continued on past Cumberland, MD, as it had originally been planned.
I had an interesting dream this morning as I awoke; actually the dream was pretty mundane, the alterations from the real landscape were what was interesting. I didn't notice the differences while asleep, the landscape in the dream was just accepted as dream images are. The dream images carried over as I woke and I then wondered about them.
I live in Cumberland, Maryland, the endpoint of the C&O Canal from Washington, DC to the south and east and the National Road to the west. The C & O Canal follows the Potomac River up to Cumberland and was supposed to continue west through The Narrows and up Wills Creek, then zigzag through the mountains to a branch of the Ohio River and down to Pittsburgh. But the railroads got to Pittsburgh first, and slower progress and cost overruns had plagued the Canal (along with nasty floods from the Potomac River) and progress was stopped at Cumberland. The Canal was finally closed completely after a flood in 1924. There are two railroads flanking the sides of The Narrows with the National Highway and Wills Creek between.
In my dream there was a paved footpath on the south bank of Wills Creek, where the road is in reality, and the road crossed the creek and followed the north bank, where the Chessie railroad, formerly the B&O (Baltimore and Ohio) railroad runs. Thinking about my dream images, I realized that not only were the B & O tracks missing, but the Iron Bridge supporting the Western Maryland Railway, that we should have passed under in my dream had been missing as well. After wondering about it, I realized why it could be like that. Hence, my opening what ifs.
If the C & O Canal had been continued up Wills Creek, the towpath would have continued also, right up the south bank of the creek, where my dream's paved footpath lay. If the railroad didn't pass through The Narrows, then the north bank would have been available for the National Highway right of way. I wonder what caused the dream images to come about, since I hadn't actually thought about those what-ifs before. It is enough to make one think about those SF stories where dreams are distorted images captured from "alternate-you"s in different history branches.