Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, abbreviated as the C&O Canal, and occasionally referred to as the "Grand Old Ditch," operated from 1831 until 1924 parallel to the Potomac River in Maryland from Cumberland, Maryland, to Washington, D.C. The total length of the canal is about 184.5 miles (296.9 km). The elevation change of 605 ft (184 m) was accommodated with 74 canal locks. To enable the canal to cross relatively small streams, over 150 culverts were built. The crossing of major streams required the construction of 11 aqueducts. The canal also extends through the 3,118 ft (950 m) Paw Paw Tunnel. The principal cargo in the latter years was coal from the Allegheny Mountains. The canal way is now maintained as a park, with a linear trail following the old towpath, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
- 1 History
- 2 Tolls and revenue
- 3 Locks and engineering
- 4 Boats on the Canal
- 5 Legends and Ghosts
- 6 Points of interest
- 7 Canal Damage During the 20th Century
- 8 As a National Historical Park
- 9 Gallery
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 General references
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Early river projects
After the American Revolutionary War, George Washington was the chief advocate of using waterways to connect the Eastern Seaboard to the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. Washington founded the Potowmack Company in 1785 to make navigability improvements to the Potomac River. The Patowmack Company built 5 of skirting canals around the major falls: Little Falls (which was later incorporated in the C&O Canal), Great Falls skirting canal in Virginia, Seneca Falls (opposite Violette's lock), Payne's Falls of the Shenendoah, and House's Falls near Harpers Ferry. When completed, it allowed boats and rafts to float downstream towards Georgetown. Going upstream was a bit harder. Slim boats could be slowly poled upriver (using poles). The completion of the Erie Canal worried southern traders that their business might be threatened by the northern canal; plans for a canal linking the Ohio and Chesapeake were drawn up as early as 1820.
"Gondolas" were log rafts, 60 by 10 feet, and upon finishing the trip, the owners usually sold them for wood, and returned upstream on foot. "Sharpers" were flat bottomed boats on this canal, 60 feet by 7 feet, and they too, were poled, but were only usable when the river was high (flooding), only about 45 days per year.
Building the canal
Plans for the Canal
President James Monroe signed the bill chartering the construction of the canal in early March, 1825, one of the last acts of his presidency. The plan was to build it in two sections, the eastern section from the tidewater of Washington DC to Cumberland, Maryland, and the western section over the Allegheny mountains to the Ohio river or one of its tributaries. The canal company was to be free from taxation, and had to have 100 miles in use in 5 years, and complete the canal in 12 years. The canal was planned to have a 2 mph water current downstream, which not only would feed the canal, but also help the mules pull loaded boats. The eastern section was the only part of the canal to be completed A couple rejected names for the canal included the "Potomac Canal" and "Union Canal".
In October 23, 1826, the engineers submitted the study dividing the canal into three sections: Eastern section from Georgetown to Cumberland, Middle section from Cumberland (going up Wills Creek to Hyndman then across the Sand Patch Grade crossing the Eastern Continental Divide to Garrett) to the confluence of the Casselman River and the Youghiogheny River, and the Western section from there to Pittsburgh, with the estimates as follows:
|Section||Distance||Ascent & Descent||# of Locks||Cost|
|Eastern||185 mi 1078 yds||578||74||$8,177,081.05|
|Middle||70 Mi 1010 Yds||1961||246||$10,028,122.86|
|Western||85 Mi 348 Yds||619||78||$4,170,223.78|
|Total:||341 Mi 676 Yds||3158||398||$22,375,427.69|
The price tag of over $22 million dampened the enthusiasm of many supporters, who were expecting a price tag of about $4 – $5 million. They had a convention in December 1826 to discredit the engineers' report, and to come up with a lower estimate. They proposed Georgetown to Cumberland to be $5,273,283 and Georgetown to Pittsburgh to be $13,768,152. Geddes and Roberts were hired to make another report, which they gave in 1828: $4,479,346.93 for Georgetown to Cumberland. With those numbers to encourage them, the stockholders formally organized the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company in June 1828. In the end, the final construction cost to Cumberland in 1850 was $11,071,075.21. Compared to the original cost given by the engineers in 1826 of about $8 million, removing things not in the estimate such as land purchases, engineering expenses, incidental damages, salaries, and fencing provision, the cost overrun was about 19%, which can be justified by the inflation rate of the period. The cost overrun of the other proposal (Geddes and Roberts) was about 51% thus showing that the original engineer's estimate was good.
The planned C&O Canal route to navigable waters of the Mississippi watershed would have followed the North Branch Potomac River west from Cumberland to the Savage River. Via the Savage, the canal would have crossed the Eastern Continental Divide at the gap between the Savage and Backbone Mountains near where present day O'Brien Road intersects Maryland Route 495, then via the valley of present day Deep Creek Lake, followed the Youghiogheny River to navigable waters.]]
In 1824, the holdings of the "Patowmack Company" were ceded to the Chesapeake and Ohio Company. By 1825, the Canal Company was authorized by an act of the General Assembly of Maryland in the amount of subscriptions of $500,000 authorized by the act of incorporation paved the way for future investments and loans. According to future historians (J. Thomas Scharf, "History of Baltimore City and County", published 1881, reprinted 1971), those financial resources were expended until unfortunately the State had prostrated itself on its own credit.
Benjamin Wright, formerly Chief Engineer of the Erie Canal, was named Chief Engineer of this new effort, and construction began with a groundbreaking ceremony near Georgetown near the location of Lock 6 (close to the upstream end of the Little Falls skirting canal), at 5.64 Miles near Dam No. 1 today, on the Fourth of July, (Independence Day), 1828, by sixth President of the United States John Quincy Adams. On the same day, the little more than one-year old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad also set its "First Stone" with the aging, sole surviving Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton.
At the time of this ground breaking, there was still some argument over the eastern end of the canal. The directors thought that Little Falls (at the downstream end of the Patowmack Little Falls Skirting Canal) was sufficient since that literally fulfilled the charter's condition of reaching the tidewater, but people in Washington wanted it to end in Washington, connecting to the Tiber Creek and Anacostia river. For that reason, the canal originally opened from Little Falls to Seneca, and the next year, extended down to Georgetown. The Little Falls skirting canal, which was part of the Patowmack Canal, was repurposed for the C & O canal. The Little Falls canal was originally then at a depth of 4 feet, and had to be augmented to the C & O's depth of 6 feet.
The first president of the Canal, Charles F. Mercer, insisted on perfection since this was a work of national importance. This would cost the company more money to build the canal. During his term, he forbade the use of slackwaters for navigation or the use of composite locks (see section below) or reduction of the cross section of the canal prism in difficult terrain. While it was to reduce maintenance costs, later such a policy caused problems due to construction costs being high and difficult to repay. In the end, two slackwaters (Big Slackwater above Dam #4, and Little Slackwater above Dam #5) and composite locks (from Lock 58-71) were built anyways.
At first, the canal company thought to use steamboats in the slackwaters, since without mules, the canal boats had to use oars to move upstream, having no motive power. After many complains of delays and dangers, the company provided a towpath so that the mules could pull the boats through the slackwaters.
Section numbers and Contracts
From Lock 5 at Little Falls to Cumberland (as mentioned above, the canal started at Little Falls, and was later extended down to Georgetown), the canal was divided into 3 divisions (about 60 miles per division) of 120 sections per division, each section being about ½ mile long, with separate construction contracts for each section On construction documents, one finds locks, culverts, dams, etc. all listed by section number, not by mileage as is done today. For instance, Locks 5 and 6 are on Section No. 1, all the way to Guard Lock #8 on section 367. Sections A-H were in the Georgetown level below lock 5
First part opened
In November 1830, the canal opened from Little Falls to Seneca, not to Georgetown, as people often assume. Later in 1831, the Georgetown section was opened.
In March 1837, there were three surveys made for a possible link to the northeast to Baltimore: via Westminister, via Monocacy-Ligamore, and via Seneca, but they were all were deemed impractical due to lack of water at the summit level.
The canal company began importing indentured labourers in August, 1829. While being promised meat 3 times a day, vegetables, and a "reasonable allowance of whiskey", $8 to $12 per day, $20 for masons, the labourers were quite dissatisfied with the slave-like conditions upon arriving in Alexandria and Georgetown. The main labour force was Irish and German, and due to friction between these groups, they had to be kept in different crews
In 1832, trying to improve the speed at which the labour force worked, the canal company tried prohibiting liquor, but like Prohibition in the 20's, the company had to repeal it. In August 1832, a cholera epidemic arrived, killing many, and stopping work.
Dispute for Point of Rocks and Second part opened
The narrow strip of available land along the Potomac River from Point of Rocks to Harpers Ferry caused a legal battle between the C & O Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) in 1828 as each sought to exclude the other from its use. Following a Maryland state court battle involving Daniel Webster and Roger B. Taney, the companies later compromised to allow the sharing of the right of way.
Other problems impeded construction, for instance, in September 1832, an epidemic of cholera swept through the construction camps, killing many. Some workers in fear, threw down their tools and fled.
Afterwards, the section to Harper's ferry was opened in 1834. The dimensions of the canal prism above Harpers's Ferry were reduced to 50 feet wide, not just as an economy measure, but also was mentioned by the engineers as appropriate for the area.
The canal initially connected to the Potomac River on the east side of Georgetown by joining Rock Creek east of Lock 1, 0.3 miles (0.5 km) upstream of the Tidewater Lock, whose remnants still exist to the west of the mouth of the creek. In 1831, the first section opened from Georgetown to Seneca, Maryland. By 1833, the canal opened to Harpers Ferry, and at the Georgetown end it was extended 1.5 miles (2.4 km) eastward to Tiber Creek, near the western terminus of the Washington City Canal which extended into the future National Mall and the foot of the United States Capitol. A lock keeper's house at the eastern end of this "Washington Branch" of the C&O Canal remains at the southwest corner of Constitution Avenue and 17th Street, N.W., at the edge of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The canal reached Williamsport in 1834.
In 1836, the canal was used as a Star Route for the carriage of mails from Georgetown to Shepherdstown using canal packets. The contract was held by Albert Humrickhouse at $1,000 per annum for a daily service of 72 book miles. The canal approached Hancock, Maryland, by 1839. In 1843, the Potomac Aqueduct Bridge was constructed near the present-day Francis Scott Key Bridge to connect the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to the Alexandria Canal which led to Alexandria, Virginia.
As the canal approached Hancock, more construction problems surfaced. Because there is much limestone in the area, there is a tendency for sinkholes and caverns, which often caused the canal bottom to cave in, e.g. near Shepherdstown, near Two Locks above Dam No. 4, around Four Locks, Big pool, and Roundtop Hill near Dam No. 6. These sinks became such a problem, that Chief Engineer Fisk wrote on 6 December 1839: These breaks have all evidently been occasioned by limestone sinks which exhibit themselves by a falling down of the bottom of the Canal into limestone caverns that are lower than, and extend out under the bed of the river: — in consequence of which the water from the Canal is at first conducted down below the canal bottom perhaps twenty or thirty feet and thence out along under the bed of the river ... It has been a matter of surprise to me that our Canal thus far has suffered so little from limesinks. We may yet however have much trouble from this source near and above the breach at Lock No. 37. For about a mile, there is scarcely a hundred feet in length of the canal in which there are not several small lime sink holes.... He recommended costly but necessary repairs to deal with the sinks. By July 1840 the necessary repairs were done.
The Canal reached Dam #6 (west of Hancock, MD) in 1839.
Last 50 Miles
Building the last 50 miles was a major obstacle. Although the final locks (70-75) had been completed earlier than 1842, all but an 18½ mile segment had been done, including the Paw Paw tunnel, the deep cut at Oldtown, and 17 locks. Since it was difficult to obtain stone for the locks, composite locks, sometimes made with kyanized wood were made.
In April 1843, floods damaged much of the finished portion of the canal between Georgetown and Harpers Ferry, including the Shenandoah river lock, with one flood suspending navigation for 103 days. The company raised the embankments around Little Falls, and made a tumbling waste near the 4 mile marker.
The engineers, near Paw Paw, had no good solutions. If they followed the river, they would have to cross over to West Virginia to avoid the cliffs, and an agreement with the B&O railroad was that the canal would avoid the south side of the river, unless it was a place where the railroad would not need it. It was later decided to build a tunnel thorough that mountain. Unfortunately, the cost was grossly underestimated at $33,500. The tunnel was completed for $616,478.65 They also had to make a brick kiln for the tunnel's brick lining.
Originally the company intended to go around Cumberland, behind the town of Wills Creek, but complaints from the citizens and the city caused the board to change their plans, and then went into center of Cumberland. The canal was opened for trade to Cumberland on Thursday, October 10, 1850. On the first day, five canal boats, Southampton, Elizabeth, Ohio, Delaware and Freeman Rawdon loaded with a total of 491 coal, came down from Cumberland. In one day, the C&O carried more coal in the first day of business than the Lehigh Canal for their full year of business in 1820.
By the time the canal reached Cumberland in 1850, the B&O Railroad had reached Cumberland eight years previously. Debt-ridden, the company dropped its plan to continue construction of the next 180 miles (290 km) of the canal into the Ohio Valley. The company long realized (especially with the experience at the Paw Paw tunnel) that construction over the mountains going to Pittsburgh was "wildly unrealistic". Occasionally there was talk of continuing the canal, e.g. in 1874, an 8.4 mile long tunnel was proposed to go through the Allegheny Mountains.
Sometime after the canal opened in 1850, a commemorative obelisk was erected near its Georgetown terminus.
The canal had deteriorated significantly during the Civil War, and needed much repair and maintenance. In 1869 the report to the board stated: During the last ten years little or nothing had been done toward repairing and improving lock-houses, culverts, aqueducts, locks, lock-gates and waste weirs of the Company; many of them had become entirely unfit for use and were becoming worthless, rendering it absolutely essential to the requirements of the Company to have them repaired. Nevertheless, much improvement had been done in the years after the war, for instance, replacing dams #4 and #5 by the end of the decade.
The canal company did have a few good years and they managed to pay back some of their bonds. The early 1870s, which Unrau calls the "Golden Years" were particularly good. Yet there were still problems, besides flood damage. By 1872, problems with vessels unfit for navigation became so bad, the company put together a committee to inspect and re-register vessels every year. One example in July 1876 was the leaky Lezan Ragan which was leaking badly when loaded in Cumberland, yet the crew kept her floating by pumping. She hit some abutments of the locks near Great Falls, and finally sank at the opening Lock 15 (at the head of Widewater).
The company also installed a telephone system in the 1870s to aid in communication and coordination (see below for more information and references).
For a brief period in the 1860s and 1870s, the company attempted to prevent boating on Sundays, but due to boatmen breaking padlocks on the lock gates and violent confrontations, the company gave up trying to enforce the rule
While a trip from Cumberland to Georgetown was about 7 days, there were several speed records set, from boat races. The fastest known time from Georgetown to Cumberland for a light boat was 62 hours, set by Raleigh Bender from Sharpsburg. Dent Shupp made it from Cumberland to Williamsport in 35 hours with 128 tons of coal.
Following the disastrous flood of 1889, the canal company went into receivership, whereupon the Baltimore and Ohio railroad gained ownership of the canal, primarily to keep the right of way from falling into the hands of the rival Western Maryland railroad.
This, of course, caused major changes in canal business. In efforts to streamline the business especially after 1902, operations shifted away from independent boatmen owning their own boats, to company owned boats. From boats which had colorful names, with private owners, they became numbered boats, run under a schedule. During the waning years, the boats had the name "Canal Towage Company" with a number, instead of individual names such as Bertha M. Young or Lezen Ragan.
Tolls and revenue
Tolls were charged for cargo on the canal. In 1851, for instance, the toll rates on the Canal were set as follows:
|Item||Per ton per mile, For first 20 miles||Per ton per mile thereafter|
|Coal||¼ cent||¼ cent|
|Slaughtered hogs, bacon & meat||2 cents||1 cent|
|Whiskey and spirits, fish fresh & salted||2 cents||1 cent|
|Salt||1 cent||¾ cent|
|Fire brick||1 cent||½ cent|
|Bricks, ice||1 cent||¼ cent|
|Sand, gravel, clay, earth, paving stones||¼ cent||¼ cent|
Tolls varied greatly, and frequently the board adopted new toll rates.
Of course, wily boatmen tried to ship extra things in the boats, not listed on the waybills, to avoid paying tolls. For instance, in 1873, one boat went from Georgetown to Harpers Ferry with 225 hidden sacks of salt, before the company found out
The items transported on the canal varied. In the early days, before completion for instance in 1845, the shipments were as follows:
|Item sent downstream||Quantity||Items sent upstream||Quantity|
|Flour||170,464 barrels||Salted Fish||4,569 barrels|
|Wheat||299,607 bushels||Salt||1,265 tons|
|Corn||126,799 bushels||Plaster||4,721 tons|
|Oats||35,464 bushels||Lumber||820,000 feet, board measure|
|Mill Offal||38,575 bushels||Potatoes||2,511 bushels|
|Corn Meal||16,327 bushels||Bricks||118,225 units|
|Pork||15,250 pounds||Wheat||1,708 bushels|
|Lumber||508,083 feet, board measure||Oysters||1,351 bushels|
Business after 1891
After 1891, the canal principally transported coal, and sometimes West Virginia limestone, wood, lumber, sand, and flour, but statistics were only kept for coal Coal, of course, was loaded in the Cumberland basin, which consisted of dumping 4 carloads of coal into the boat. Some of the coal had to be shoveled by hand into the spaces beneath the cabins. During the loading process, nobody would be on the boat due to the dust, and mules were kept off, in case the boat sank from being loaded. Despite closing windows, dust usually entered the cabins. After loading, the ridge poles would be put, then the hatches over the ridge poles and openings. The crew would scrub down the boat (using water from the canal) to remove the dust, and the boat would be poled to the other side of the basin, where it would be hitched to the mules.
Boatmen came down to lock 5, called "Willard's lock" or "Waybill Lock", whereupon the locktender would sign the waybill, and report it to the office. If they did not get orders at that lock, they waited near the aqueduct bridge in Georgetown, until orders came through. A tugboat on the river would pull the boats to other points, e.g. Navy Yard, Indianhead, Alexandria. Some coal loads were unloaded directly in the Georgetown coal yards, using buckets. Coal was also unloaded onto ocean sailing vessels bound for Massachusetts (which brought ice, and returned with coal), a 4 masted vessel holding about 20 boatloads of coal.
In the last few years, the tonnage and tolls for coal were as follows
|Year||Coal Tonnage||Tolls collected|
One of the more unusual loads was a circus with about 9 people with their equipment, which included a black bear. They were transported from Oldtown, Maryland to Harpers Ferry. The black bear got loose on the journey, and the boatman told them, "You tie that thing good or you're never going to get to Harpers Ferry, for I'm going to leave the boat."
Other loads included furniture (often second hand), pianos, a parlor suites, watermelons, fish (such as shad and herring), as well as transporting items such as flour or molasses to sell to lockkeepers, as some of the lockkeepers in remote areas needed the boats to bring their supplies. Cement from the Round Top Mill above Hancock was also shipped to Georgetown. Some would pole across the river at Dam No. 2 to get wood, cross-ties, bark (used in tanning), and sometimes grain. Other loads, often carried upstream, included 600 empty barrels in a boat, taken to Shepherdstown to load cement, lumber, fertilizer, and general merchandise for stores along the canal, as well as oysters in barrels, complete materials to build a house, ear corn, and even extra mules.
Business after 1924
The last known boat to carry coal was Pat Boyer's Boat #5, which returned to Cumberland on 27 November 1923. The only boats recorded to operate in 1924 were 5 boats that carried sand from Georgetown to Williamsport to construct a power plant. After the flood damage of 1924, the railroad only fixed the part of the canal serving Georgetown, since they sold water to the mills therein, leaving the rest of the canal in disrepair. In 1928-1929 there was some talk of restoring and reopening the canal from Cumberland to Williamsport, but with the onset of the Great Depression, the plans were never realized In April 1929 after some freshet damage, the railroad repaired a break in the towpath, so that they could continue to flush out mosquitoes as demanded by the Maryland board of health.
After the flood, the boatmen, now unemployed, went to work for railroads, quarries, farms, and some retired. At that date, the only other canal using mules, was the Lehigh Canal, which was soon to close in 1940.
Some of the lockkeepers stayed on, and there were a few canal superintendents were listed for the now disused canal.
The company levied fines for infractions, such as traveling without a waybill or destruction of canal property such as lock gates or canal masonry. For instance:
- May 30, 1877, Capt. Thomas Fisher fined $10 (about $423 USD in 2012) for passing through lock without waybill
- Oct 22, 1877, R. Cropley's scow, fined $25 for knocking out gate in Lock No. 5 [Brookmont Lock]
- Nov. 12, 1877, Capt. Joseph Little, fined $10 for running into crib at Lock No. 9 [Seven Locks]
- July 4, 1878, Boat John Sherman, fined $62.70 for unloading and raising (note: this was on Independence Day)
- Aug 30, 1878, Steamer Scrivenes, fined $50, Allowing the Bertha M. Young in tow to sink on Level 36 and abandoning her at night without giving notice, causing navigation to be suspended 36 hrs.
- May 5, 1879, Capt. Jacob Hooker fined $40, Running into and breaking gate at Lock No. 40
- Jan 14, 1880, Boat Harry & Ralph, fined $5, Running into gate at Darbey’s Lock (Note: this was in winter, when the canal was usually drained for repairs.)
- Jun 12, 1880, G.L. Booth, fined $4.40, for pumping.
Locks and engineering
The dimensions of the canal vary quite a bit. Below Lock 5, the width is 80 feet wide and 6 feet deep Above Lock 5 to Harper's Ferry it is 60 feet wide and 6 feet deep, and above Harper's Ferry, 50 feet wide.
Lift Locks and Guard Locks
To build the canal, the C&O Canal Company utilized a total of 74 lift locks that raised the canal from sea level at Georgetown to 610 feet (190 m) at Cumberland. Eleven stone aqueducts were built to carry the canal over the Potomac's tributaries. In addition, seven dams were built to supply water to the canal, waste weirs to control water flow, and 200 culverts to carry roads and streams underneath the canal. An assortment of lockhouses, bridges, and stop gates were also constructed along the canal's path.
Locks 8-27 and their accompanying lock houses were made from Seneca red sandstone, quarried from the Seneca Quarry, as was Aqueduct No. 1, better known as Seneca Aqueduct. This unique structure is the only aqueduct made from Seneca red sandstone and is doubly unique for being the only aqueduct on the C&O that is also a lock (Lock 24, Riley's Lock).
Seven guard locks, often called inlet locks (numbered 1 through 8) were built to allow water and sometimes boats (particularly at Big Slackwater and Little Slackwater) to enter. Dam #7 and Guard Lock #7 were proposed (near mile 164 at the South Branch of the Potomac) but never built. In 1856, there was a steam pump put at that site. Later, in 1872, a new steam pump was put near mile 174.
Three additional river locks were built, to allow boats to enter the canal at the river, as demanded by the Virginia legislature for buying canal stock. They were at Goose Creek (below Edwards Ferry, Lock 25), near the Shenendoah River just below Lock 33, and at Shepherdstown.
The Goose Creek locks were to allow boats from the Goose Creek and Little River Navigation Company to enter. Only one Goose Creek boat was documented to enter the C&O canal, and there is no documentation of a C&O boat entering Goose Creek. The lock was eventually converted into a waste weir.
The Shenandoah river (about 422 feet below Lock 33) lock let boats cross to Harpers Ferry with the mules walking on the railroad bridge, up the Shenandoah river, to the old Potomac Canal Bypass on the Shenandoah river by Virginius island. The railroad refused to let mules walk on the bridge, and from lack of business, the lock was abandoned. Stones from that lock were used for other purposes.
After the 1889 flood destroyed the nearby dam in Shepherdstown, the raison d'être for the Shepherdstown lock was gone, and so it was filled in.
At night, locktenders were required to remove the cranks and handles from all paddle valves to prevent unauthorized use.
Despite Charles F. Mercer not wanting any composite locks, due to measures to economize on the last 50 miles of construction, and the scarcity of good building stone, locks 58-71 are composite locks. That means, the lock masonry is built of rubble and inferior undressed stone. Since that makes a rough surface which damages the boats, the locks were originally lined with wood to protect the boats. This wood sheathing had to be replaced. In time, some of the composite locks were lined with concrete, since the wood kept rotting.
The stretch of canal between locks is called a level. Canalers called these levels by their lengths, for instance the longest level is the 14 mile level was about 14 miles long, and ran from Lock 50 (at 4 locks) to Lock 51 in Hancock. Some levels had additional nicknames (since some had similar lengths), e.g. "Four Mile Level below Dam 6", "Four Mile Level Big Slackwater", or "Four Mile Level of the Log Wall" (which is between locks 14 and 15, includes Widewater, Anglers, Carderock, Billy Goat Trails B, and C, and the downstream enterance to Trail A, all connect on that level) Levels less than a mile between locks were called short levels. Waste weirs and bypass flumes at the locks helped control the height of water in the levels (see below about waste weirs).
There were three streams used as feeders: Rocky Run feeder (section #9, around 7 Locks), Great Falls feeder (section #18) and the Tuscarora feeder (section #78). There was a contemplated feeder at the Monocacy (not built),. Of course, the remains of the Potomac Company Little Falls skirting canal was used as a feeder also. Inlet lock #2 is called the Seneca Feeder in historic documents.
The remains of the Tuscarora feeder can still be seen, but it was made redundant by Dam #3 and was no longer used.
Despite Charles F. Mercer, two slackwaters were used for navigation: Big Slackwater at Dam #4, and Little Slackwater at Dam #5. Big Slackwater is about 3 miles long, Little Slackwater is about ½ mile long. The boats had to navigate despite winds, currents, and debris in the channel. In February 1837, the board of directors discussed using steam power in the slackwater for the boats, but instead decided on a permanent towpath. The towpath for Big Slackwater was completed in 1838 for $31,416.36, and the towpath for Little Slackwater was completed in 1839 for $8,204.40.
Little Slackwater was a tricky place to navigate. Not only did it have a lot of hairpin turns, but also just before Guard lock #5, there was a strip of land in the water called "the pier" [which exists even today]: loaded boats going downstream would have to go outside the pier, and unloaded boats on the inside, thus making steering difficult for the loaded boats to get into the lock. If the current was fast in the river it could go as fast as the boat, rendering the tiller useless, and thus, a boat could be almost impossible to steer. One man reported that at the slackwater, they had him sit at the front of the boat with a hatchet in case they had to cut the towline [since it would pull the mules into the river], and had a couple of [wooden] hatches turned upside down, so that they could escape to shore on the hatches. On 1 May 1903, the towline to Boat No. 6 broke, with Captain Keim, Mrs. Keim, their two daughters, and Harry Newkirk aboard. One daughter drowned, another suffered a broken leg, and the captain died later of injuries. The rest (including the mules aboard) survived.
Boatmen reported that it was easier to navigate in the slackwaters than the aqueducts, since there was room for the water to move around the boat. Places like aqueducts, where there was little room for the water to move, were difficult for the mules to pull the boat through.
Waste weirs, spillways, and informal overflows (mule drinks)
To regulate the level of water in the canal prism, waste weirs, informal overflows, and spillways were used.
Waste weirs removed the surges of water from storms or excess when a lock was emptied. Boards could be removed or added to adjust the amount of water in the level. If one had to empty the whole level for winter, repairs, or emergencies, waste weirs often had paddle valves (similar to those found in locks) at the bottom which could be opened to let the water out.
Waste weirs come in several styles. Originally they were made of concrete masonry with boards on top making a bridge with mules to pass over. A possible example of an old-style waste weir (abandoned) is at 39.49 miles, above Lock 26 (Wood's Lock). Most of these old waste weirs were replaced with concrete structures in 1906. Another used to be at Pennyfield lock in 1909-1911.
Spillways are made of concrete, and can be on either side, but if on the towpath side, have a bridge so people (and mules) can cross without getting the feet wet. High water simply flows over the spillway and out of the canal. The longest spillway, near Chain Bridge, is 354 feet long, was made in 1830 (but has been worked on since). Another spillway near Foxhall road at mile 1.51, was made in 1835. The spillway and waste weir at Big Pool was built in the 1840s
An informal overflow or mule drink was a dip in the towpath allowing water to flow over, similar to a spillway, but without the bridge or the concrete construction (hence, were more informal). The canalers called these "mule drinks". There are documented informal overflows at mileage 10.76 (shown in the photograph), 49.70, and 58.08. These usually had a drainage ditch which was riprapped with stone to prevent erosion. Historically the towpath dropped two feet to form this overflow. Due to silting, construction, etc. many of these overflows are now difficult to find. Hahn states that clues to finding these overflows include: a gully without a culvert, a sudden lowering of the towpath, or the signs of riprap on the towpath or the gully itself. Many of these (e.g. the one at Pennyfield lock) were replaced by a waste weir.
Paw Paw tunnel
One of the most impressive engineering features of the canal is the Paw Paw Tunnel, which runs for 3,118 feet (950 m) under a mountain. Built to save six miles (10 km) of construction around the obstacle, the 3/4-mile tunnel used over six million bricks. The tunnel took almost twelve years to build; in the end, the tunnel was only wide enough for single lane traffic. One notorious incident included two captains who refused to budge for several days. The company official threw green cornstalks onto a roaring fire at the upwind portion of the tunnel, smoking the offenders out.
Starting in 1875, a canal inclined plane was built two miles (3 km) upriver from Georgetown, so that boats whose destination was downriver from Washington could bypass the congestion (and price gouging of independent wharf owners) in Georgetown. Originally the company planned to build a river lock, but then discovered that such a lock occasionally would consume more water than the level could provide. They then planned to make an inclined plane, much like the Morris Canal. The first boat went through in 1876; 1918 boats used the inclined plane that first year. Usage reports conflict: Hahn reports that was only really used for two years, and sporadically in 1889, yet Skramstad reports that due to flood damage in 1880 to the Rock Creek outlet, any boat until 1889 (when another flood wrecked the canal) going further down the Potomac than Georgetown, had to use the inclined plane. Although Hahn says it was the largest inclined plane in the world at that time, it was 600 feet long, which is short compared to Plane 9 West of the Morris Canal at 1,500 feet. It originally used a turbine to power it (like the Morris Canal) but was later switched to use steam power.
The inclined plane was dismantled after a major flood in 1889 when ownership of the canal transferred to the B&O Railroad, which operated the canal to prevent its right of way (particularly at Point of Rocks) from falling into the hands of the Western Maryland Railway.
In the late 1870s, the Company installed a telephone system, rather than a telegraph as was the railroad practice, for $15,000. Completed in October 1879, it had 43 stations along the canal. It was divided into sections with three switches, placed respectively at Dam #4, Dam #6, and Wood's Lock (head of 9 Mile level, i.e. Lock 26). It is unknown if there are currently any remains of this system.
To carry small streams under the canal, small culverts, usually of masonry, were built. For instance, culvert #30 was built in 1835 to carry Muddy Branch under the canal. Unfortunately culverts are prone to collapse due to tree roots growing into the canal prism; in addition, rubbish from floods plug culverts, causing floods and more damage. Some culverts have disappeared or were abandoned, although they still appear in company records.
Eleven aqueducts carried the canal over rivers and large streams, where they were too large for a culvert.
The canal hired level walkers to walk the level with a shovel, looking for leaks, and repairing them. Large leaks were reported to the division superintendent, who would send out a crew with a repair scow.
Boatmen said that crabs caused leaks, as did muskrats. The Company gave a 25 cent bounty on each muskrat.
Boats on the Canal
At first the board of directors discussed having boats similar to the dimensions on the Erie Canal, i.e. 13½ feet wide with a draft of 3 feet, traveling at 2½ miles per hour. Later, Chief Engineer Benjamin Wright submitted a suggestion with the dimensions of the boats being 14½ feet wide, 90 feet long, with a 5 foot draft, to take advantage of the lock sizes and prism depth. That would permit boats with cargo up to 130 tons. Wright also suggested for passenger boats, having a draft of 10 inches (not including the keel) pulled by 4 horses at 7 miles per hour.
The following classifications of boats originally defined for the canal were as follows:
- Packet Boats, for passengers
- Freight boats
- Scows, especially work scows for construction and maintenance, as well as ice breaking
Rafts were, from time to time, on the canal, as well as launches and canoes. By 1835 (no doubt due to complaints about drifting rafts) the company put rates unfavorably against rafts Farmers would build watercraft which were to last only one trip (to transport their wares) and then be sold in Georgetown for firewood.
Classifications were to change. In 1851, after the opening of the Canal to Cumberland, the company adopted new classes of boats: A, B, C, D, E, and F, depending on dimensions and tonnage as follows:
|Class||Description||# of boats in 1851|
|A||Decked boats of substantial build, carrying one hundred tons and upwards||9|
|B||Boats of similar construction, carrying less than one hundred tons||49|
|C||Boats not decked, of substantial build, carrying one hundred tons and up-wards||108|
|D||Boats of similar construction, carrying less than one hundred tons||41|
|E||Long boats and scows, decked or not decked, of substantial build||10|
|F||Gondolas and other floats designed for temporary use||6|
|Packets||Boats used chiefly for the transportation of passengers||1|
Later years of Canal trade showed a predominance of coal carrying boats. In 1875, the register lists 283 boats owned by coal companies, and of the 108 other boats, 8 were listed as grain carrying, 1 brick, and 1 limestone carrying boat, with the other 91 being general.
During the declining years, freight boats were generally made in Cumberland. Freight boats in those years had two hulls, with 4 inches between them. There were holes (covered, when not in use) that one could put a pump in to pump out the bilge.
The Canal Company, in 1875, announced its intention to double the lengths of the locks to allow double boats to pass through the canal, i.e. two boats, one behind the other, which could be towed, reducing freight costs by 50%. The Maryland Coal Company experimented with such boats, but the floods in the late 1870s destroyed these dreams. The first lock to be extended to allow double boats was Edwards Ferry (Lock 25). Locks 25–32 were extended as such, as well as others, for a total of 14 extended locks on the canal.
Boats were to keep to the right. Certain craft had preference over others: "boats had the right of way over rafts, descending boats over ascending craft, packets over freight boats at all times, and packets carrying the mail over all others", and later, repair boats actively involved in repair had preference over everybody else. The boat which did not have preference would slow down the mule team, the rope would sink to the bottom of the canal, and the other boat would float over it, and the mules would walk over also. The towline of the one boat would be unhitched so the lines would not tangle, but sometimes they did. There is one report of a towline snagging on the other boat, and the boatman running the boat into the towpath so as not to drag the other mules into the canal.
It was forbidden to moor boats, rafts, or anything on the towpath side of the canal (which would, of course, impede any traffic at night). For that reason, boats would tie up on the berm side for the night.
Due to problems, on 1 April 1851, the company printed a 47 page booklet with new traffic regulations on the canal, detailing every aspect of operation, as well as fines for violations, and were printed in great numbers and distributed to boatmen and company officials.
The typical boating season ran from April until late November or December when the canal froze over. There were some occasions, for instance, during the Civil War, where the company tried to keep the canal open all year round.
Boats carried oakum and chisels to patch leaks. There were also boat repair areas, for instance, beside Lock 35 and at Lock 47 (Four Locks), to repair boats. The boat would settle on raised beams (at lock 35, they were made of concrete), as the drydock was drained, and the men could make the necessary repairs, using tin and tar. Originally, the canal plans did not have provisions for drydocks or repairs of boats, but by 1838 there were frequent complaints about drifting rafts and wrecks obstructing navigation. The company made provisions for drydocks to help the situation. In the mid-1800s the Canal Company authorized at least 6 drydocks, documented at the following locations: Locks 45-46, Lock 47 (Four Locks), Lock 44 (Shepherdstown), Above Lock 14 (near Carderock), Edwards Ferry (Lock 25), and in the rear of Lock 10 (Seven Locks).
Icebreakers were used on the canal, for instance, at the end of the boating season when winter froze the canal, so that the last group of boats could go home. The icebreaker was typically a company scow filled with pig iron. Mules would pull the boat onto the ice, and the weight would break the ice. During the Civil war, the canal company attempted to keep the canal open during the winters of 1861-1862, despite the fact that winters were usually for repairs. Icebreaker boats were used to keep the channel free of ice, so that the military could move supplies.
Most boats were drawn by mules. Mules lasted about 15 years. Mules were often changed at locks, over gangplanks. Some boatmen would change teams by making the mules swim to the shore to change teams, leading to mules drowning as a result. Mules were bought, at 2½ years, often from Kentucky, and were broken in by having them drag logs. The command to stop mules was not "whoa" but "ye–yip–ye"
Getting a boat fully loaded boat moving was not easy for the mules, and overdriving them, especially at the basin in Cumberland where there was no water current to help them move the boat, was common, resulting in many spavined mules. To get a loaded boat going, the mules would have to walk until the line was taut, then put their weight into it, and step once the boat had moved, and repeat this process. Within 25 feet, the boat would be moving.
Mules were shod every other trip in Cumberland, although sometimes they had to be shod every trip. Mules were harnessed, one behind the other, slantwise, which (for some reason) pulled the boat straighter, than if they were abreast.
Dogs were useful to a boat captain on the canal to drive mules and also to swim to take the towline to hitch the mules. Joe Sandblower had a dog which would hunt muskrats along the canal, and he would sell the pelts and collect the bounty on muskrats. There is a documented cat on the canal boat, as well as a raccoon.
Horses were occasionally used to pull boats, but they did not last as long as mules. In the 1900s, a large white horse was used in Cumberland basin like a switching engine, to pull coal cars so that the coal could be loaded into the canal boats.
Steamboats on the Canal
There were occasionally steam boats, one being authorized in 1824 In 1850, the N S Denny company operated some steam driven tugboats on the Canal. The board of directors discussed having steamboats for Big Slackwater, but that was abandoned in favor of a towpath along the side.
Boatmen and boat families
The boatmen (usually with their families) were a rough independent lot, forming a class within themselves, and intermarrying within their own group. They frequently fought amongst each other for any reason, be it racial slurs (real or perceived), precedence at a lock, or for exercise. They fought with lockkeepers over company rules, or even with the company for changes in toll rates. During winter when the boats were tied up, they often lived in their own communities away from others. One boat captain observed that on the canal, women and children were as good as the men, and if weren't for the children, the canal wouldn't run one day.
In April 2, 1831, Daniel Van Slyke reported: it is with great difficulty we have been able to preserve order among the boatmen, who in striving to push forward for a preference in passing the several locks are sometimes dis-posed to injure each other’s boats as a means of carrying their point. An unfortunate in-stance of this kind happened on Wednesday last at the locks on the 9th section. A strongly constructed boat ran her bow against a gondola loaded with flour, and so much injured her as to render it necessary to transship the load. But no damage was done to the cargo.
One notorious incident occurred in May 1874 when George Reed of the Mayfield and Heison was find $20 for mooring his boat illegally in the Cumberland Basin. He refused to pay the fine. At Lock 74, he forced his way past the lockkeepers who tried to prevent him from continuing, and he was given an additional fine of $50. He continued (without paying), forced his way through the locks at Harpers Ferry and Lock 5, until Georgetown, where he was served notice for $120 in fees plus $4.08 for the waybill. When he got back to Cumberland, his boat was confiscated until he paid the whole $124.08.
Recklessness among the boatmen was common. Many accidents were due to excessive speed. Aqueduct #3 (Catoctin) had a sharp bend at the upstream end, had been the site of a number of collisions from boatmen going too fast. In July 1855, a freight boat collided with a packet boat which sank. One of the most frequent problems was careless boatmen in their rush to lock through, hitting lock gates.
Many of the men, particularly boat captains, said they knew nothing else [except boating]. One woman said, "The children are brought up on the boat and don't know nothin' else, and that is the only reason they take up 'boating'. Body work for their fathers until they are big enough to get a boat of their own, and it's always easy to get a boat."
Hours and Wages
Fifteen hours a day was the minimum, 18 hours were the most frequently reported, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Boatman said, "It never rains, snows, or blows for a boatman, and a boatman never has no Sundays." and, "We don't know it's Sunday, till we see some folks along the way, dressed up and a-gin' to Sunday School."
Captains were paid per to per trip, receiving $70 to $80 per trip in the 1920s, receiving less than $1,250 per year. Deck hands were paid $12 to $20 per trip, sometimes receiving clothes in lieu of wages or for part of their wages.
The boating season ran from approximately March until December, with the canal drained during winter months to prevent damage from ice and also for repairs.
Women attended to household chores, steered boats, and gave birth on the boats, although if possible, a midwife would be secured if they were near a town. After birth, the journey would resume, with the man handling the chores including cooking. Often if the husband died, the widow would continue managing and operating the boat. Women often served as locktenders also. One mother had 14 children, all born on boats, never had a physician attending.
The U.S. Department of Labor stated that only the limitations of physical strength prevented the children from performing all operations connected with handling boats. Otho Swain reported he saw a ten year old girl put a boat through a lock (i.e. snubbing the boat so it would stop), but that would have been a child who grew up on the canal.
Children generally did the mule driving, except perhaps at night when the captain might do so. In wet weather, the towpath was muddy and slippery and shoes wore out quickly. One man thought himself to be a good father because he provided his boys with rubber boots.
One boatman said, "A boat is a poor place for little children, for all they can do is go in and out of the cabin." His son attended school 94 days out of a possible 178, and the father regretted it, but needed the family to help boat as he could not afford otherwise.
For boat families, there was very little medical care. One father stated, "We never need a doctor. We just stay sick until we get well." It was practically impossible to get a doctor in the mountains at the upper end of the canal or on the long levels.
Canned food was sometimes brought. Bean soup, made with beans, ham hocks, and an onion, was common. Other items included corn bread, eggs and bacon, ham, potatoes, and other vegetables. A reported canal custom was the first few rows of corn from farms along the canal could be used by the boatmen. Berries along the towpath were also picked. Molasses also was common. Bread and many groceries could be bought along the canal. Muskrats were sometimes eaten, as well as chickens and ducks either bought or even stolen along the way. Rabbits were snared. Crew members sometimes had a shotgun to shoot rabbits, groundhogs, or other game. Turtles were eaten as well as eels that the locktenders caught in eel pots in the rivers or the bypass flumes. Fish included sunfish, catfish, bigmouth bass, and black bass.
Cabins were 10 feet by 12 feet, and housed two bunks, each 36 inches wide, supposedly for one person, but often occupied by two. While most cabin floors were bare, in one survey, 14 had linoleum covering. The cabins were divided between sleeping quarters and the "stateroom" by a diagonal wall. The feed box, 4 feet by 4 feet, in the center boat, often doubled as sleeping quarters with a blanket thrown over the feed. Occasionally the deck was used for sleeping
Cooking was done on a stove, burning corncobs (from the mule feed) or sometimes coal. Washing clothes and children was typically done at night by moonlight, after tying up the boat, along the side of the canal. Food and provisions for the trip (e.g. flour, sugar, coffee, salt pork, smoked meat, etc.) were bought in Cumberland on Wineow street, from stores such as Coulehan's, Dennis Murphy's, or John McGrinnis's. Some boatmen carried chickens or pigs on the boats. Fish caught in the canal also served as food, as well as turtles. Additional supplies could be bought along the way from lockkeepers and at towns.
Legends and Ghosts
Many legends have been documented along the canal during its operating days, including the following:
- On the 9 mile level around the 33-34 mile mark, some boats were used to transport soldiers to the Battle of Ball's Bluff during the American Civil War. One of the boats sank, and it was said that departed ghosts of the soldiers haunted the area. Canalers would avoid tying up at night in that area. It was also said that the mules would sense it, and would hurry through the area (it was also called "Haunted House Bend"), and also that there were tales of a ghost dog there.
- There was reported the ghost of an Indian chief on the 14 mile level around Big pool.
- A lady ghost was reported on the 2 mile level at Catoctin (between locks 28 and 29) which would walk over the waste weir, down the towpath and to the river.
- A Romeo and Juliet like-story was documented near Lock 69 (Twigg's lock). (See Locks on the C&O Canal#Lock names for more info).
Points of interest
Here is a list of items on the canal, as a canaller traveling by boat from Georgetown to Cumberland would see. (Note: some present day items are on this list also.) A typical canaller would know the canal by the names of the levels and the locks. Most list of points of the canal's points of interest do not contain a list of the levels with their names like we have here. Also note that most lists of locks do not include Guard Locks 4 and 5, which a boat would have to pass through, if navigating the entire canal (It was generally possible for boats to pass through the other guard locks also, but that is if they were going to other destinations, usually on the Virginia/West Virginia side of the river).
|Lock or Level||Mile||Features||Location|
|Tidewater Lock||0||Beginning of Canal|
||0.42||Green St Bridge (29th St NW)|
|Lock 3||0.49||Washington Street Bridge (30th St NW)|
|Lock 4||0.54||Jefferson St Bridge|
|Lock 5 (Brookmont)||5.02||Inlet gate #1 (lower)|
||5.20||Service road to Upper Inlet Gate|
|Lock 7 (Magazine Lock)||7.0|
|Lock 8 (1st of 7 locks)||8.33|
|Lock 9 (7 Locks)||8.7|
|Lock 10 (7 Locks)||8.79|
|Lock 11 (7 Locks)||8.97|
|Lock 12 (7 Locks)||9.29|
|Lock 13 (7 Locks)||9.37||American Legion Bridge|
|Lock 14 (Last of 7 Locks)||9.47|
|Lock 15 (1st of 6 Locks)||13.45||End of Wide Water|
|Lock 16 (6 Locks)||13.60|
|Lock 17 (6 Locks)||13.99|
||14.05||Trail to Great Falls|
|Lock 18 (6 Locks)||14.09|
|Lock 19 (6 Locks)||14.17|
|Lock 20 (Last of 6 Locks)||14.30||Great Falls Tavern|
|Lock 21 (Swain's Lock)||16.64|
|Lock 22 Pennyfield Lock||19.63|
|Lock 23 Violette's Lock||22.12||Inlet Lock #2 (Seneca Feeder)|
|Lock 24 Riley's Lock||22.80||Seneca Aqueduct (No.1) & Waste Weir|
|Lock 25 Edward's Ferry||30.8|
|Lock 26 (Wood's Lock)||39.37|
|Lock 27 (Spink's Ferry)||41.5|
|Lock 28 (Fulton's Lock)||48.93|
|Lock 29 (Lander or Catoctin)||50.89|
|Lock 30 (Brunswick)||55.0|
|Lock 31 (Weverton)||58.0|
|Lock 33 (Harper's Ferry)||60.7||Harpers Ferry|
|Lock 34 (Goodheart's Lock)||61.57|
|Lock 35||62.33||Drydock for boat repairs|
|Lock 37 (Mountain Lock)||66.96|
|Lock 38 (Shepherdstown lock)||72.80|
|Lock 39 (One Mile Lock)||74.0|
|Guard Lock No. 4||85.4|
|Lock 41||88.9||Reenter canal from Big Slackwater|
|Guard Lock #5||106.8||Dam No. 5|
|Lock 45 (Two Locks)||107.27||Two Locks (Reenter above Little Slackwater)|
|Lock 46 (Two Locks)||107.42|
|Lock 47 (Four Locks)||108.8|
|Lock 48 (Four Locks)||108.8|
|Lock 49 (Four Locks)||108.8|
|Lock 50 (Four Locks)||108.8|
|Lock 53 Irishman's Lock||130.0|
|Lock 56 (Sideling Lock)||136.2||Sideling Hill|
||136.56||Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct (No 8) & waste weir|
|Lock 67 Darbey's Lock||161.77|
|Lock 68 Crabtree's Lock||164.8|
|Lock 69 Twigg's Lock||166.45|
|Lock 70 Oldtown||166.7|
|Lock 72 The Narrows or 10 Mile Lock||174.46|
||175.30||Head of the Narrows|
|Lock 73 North Branch 1||175.4|
|Lock 74 North Branch 2||175.5|
|Lock 75 North Branch 3 or Keifer's Lock||175.6|
|Guard Lock No. 8||184.5||END OF CANAL|
Canal Damage During the 20th Century
Flood of 1924
The flood of 1924 caused major damage to the canal. Most of the railroad and canal bridges near Hancock were destroyed, opened a breach in Dam #1, and much damage to the banks and masonry of the canal. Although the railroad did some maintenance ostensibly that the canal could quickly be restored to operation, mainly the Georgetown level (Dam #1 and below) was fixed to supply Georgetown's mills with water for operation. The boating season lasted only three months 1924, and after the flood, navigation ceased. Unfortunately, some communities such as Glen Echo and Cumberland already used the canal to dump sewage, and G.L. Nicholson called the canal a "public nuisance" due to the sewage and being a breeding ground for mosquitoes
Flood of 1936
This winter flood in March 1936 caused even more damage to the abandoned canal, still recovering from the damage caused by the extreme floods just over a decade prior. This flood, caused by the thawing of earlier ice, combined with the flow of heavy rains, led to the highest water mark the Potomac River had ever had thus far, destroying lockhouses, levels, and other structures. There were some efforts at restoration, mainly to the Georgetown level so that the factories could have their water supply. Due to inattention of the B&O railroad, the canal became a "magnificent wreck" and would need intense repairs and reconstruction throughout many areas destroyed by the floods.
Floods of 1996
The winter and summer of 1996 saw two separate floods. Following a blizzard in January, heavy rains washed away the snow and caused extreme flooding and run-off. This major winter flood swept across 80-90% of the Canal and Towpath, causing high waters, along with the adjacent Potomac River. Erosion due to the floods lead to heavy damages to the towpath and much of the infrastructure of the Canal and park. Following the winter flood, there was an overwhelming need for volunteers in response to the damages caused. Unfortunately, in September, Hurricane Fran caused even more damage to the Canal in multiple parts, requiring workers and volunteers to restore and reconstruct the towpath and re-water the Canal, several major projects that would take an large amount of time and money to complete.
As a National Historical Park
|Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park|
IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
|Location||extending from Cumberland, MD to Georgetown, Washington, DC, USA|
|Nearest city||Washington, D.C.|
|Area||19,586 acres (7,926 ha)|
|Established||September 23, 1938|
|Visitors||5,062,079 (in 2013)|
|Governing body||National Park Service|
In 1938, the abandoned canal was obtained from the B&O by the United States in exchange for a loan from the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The government planned to restore it as a recreation area. Additionally, it was viewed as a project for employment for the jobless during the Great Depression. By 1940, the first 22 miles (35 km) of the canal were repaired and rewatered, from Georgetown to Violettes lock and returned to operating condition. The first Canal Clipper boat, giving mule driven rides, began in 1941. It was later replaced by the John Quincy Adams in the 1960s.
The project was halted when the United States entered World War II and resources were needed elsewhere. In 1941, Harry Athey suggested to Franklin Roosevelt that the canal could be converted into an underground highway or a bomb shelter with its roof for landing airplanes. The whole idea was deemed impractical due to the river's periodic flooding. In 1942, freshets destroyed the rewatered sections of the canal. Yet Arthur E. Demeray pressed that the canal from Dam #1 be restored, to supply water to the Dalecarlia Reservoir in case sabotage or bombing destroyed the normal conduits of water. Since this transformed the canal into a concern of national security, in 1942, the War Production Board approved the work. By 1943, Congress had funded the work, repairs were done, and the National Park Service resumed boat trips in October 1943.
The Congress expressed interest in developing the canal and towpath as a parkway. Because of the flooding from the 1920s to the 1940s, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed building 14 dams, that would have permanently inundated 74 miles of towpath, as well as the Monocacy and Antietam aqueducts. Around 1945, the Corps wanted to remove Dam #8, which would destroy any hope of rewatering the canal above Dam #5, as well as put a levee around in the Cumberland area. Much of this was done, with the NPS cooperating with the Corps, since maintaining an operating canal all the way to Cumberland was too expensive, as well as wanting to preserve the western parts of the canal.
The idea of turning the canal over to automobiles was opposed by some, including United States Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas. In March 1954, Douglas led an eight-day hike of the towpath from Cumberland to D.C. Although 58 people participated in one part of the hike or another, only nine men, including Douglas, hiked the full 184.5 miles (297 km). Following this hike, Justice Douglas formed a committee, later to be known as the C&O Canal Association in 1957, which would draft plans to preserve and protect the Canal. Serving as the chairman of this group, his commitment to the park proved successful as The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Act established the Canal as a National Historical Park in 1971.
The Park Today
Today the park is a popular getaway for Washington residents and visitors alike. Because the park is so versatile in its geography, offering the option of using either the canal and Potomac River or the towpath, activities such as running, hiking, biking, fishing, and boating or kayaking, as well as rock climbing in certain parts, are quite popular among visitors. The Canal also offers a variety of wildlife and is a regular spot for birdwatchers in the Washington area. The park offers rides on two reproduction canal boats, the Georgetown and the Charles F. Mercer, (named after the first president of the Canal corporation, and note: this is not the first boat on the canal named Charles F. Mercer.) during the spring, summer and autumn. The boats are pulled by mules, and park rangers in historical dress work the locks and boat while presenting a historical program. Presently the park includes nearly 20,000 acres (80 km²) and receives over four million recorded visits each year. Flooding continues to threaten historical structures on the canal and attempts at restoration. The Park Service has re-watered portions of the canal, but the majority of the canal does not have water in it.
The 2013 Federal Government Shutdown Effects the C&O Canal and other National Parks
The federal government shutdown of October 1–16, 2013 affected travel and tourism around the country as National Parks were temporarily closed, including all 184.5 miles of the Canal towpath, visitors centers, campgrounds, and lockhouses included. Only law enforcement park rangers remained on duty to restrict access and issue fines. This shutdown not only caused a large amount of economic loss, but also enraged many locals and visitors who frequent the Canal both on foot and bike.
Many other National Parks throughout the country were affected by the government shutdown, frustrating both visitors and the tourism industry.
Today, several organizations work to preserve and restore the park’s beauty and history. The C&O Canal Trust, founded in 2007, is the official non-profit partner of the National Park Service, making progress in restoration efforts of Canal infrastructure, as well as fixing eroded sections of the towpath and re-watering sections of the Canal to keep it beautiful for both visitors and wildlife, as well as educating the community on the Canal’s rich history in interactive ways at the six different visitor centers along the canal: Georgetown, Great Falls Tavern, Brunswick, Williamsport, Hancock, and Cumberland, operated by the National Park Service and its rangers.
In Allegany County, Maryland, the park includes the Western Maryland Railroad Right-of-Way, Milepost 126 to Milepost 160, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
Gallery starts at Georgetown and goes upstream to Cumberland, Maryland.
C&O canal monument located in Georgetown, DC
This spot here was called the "Log Wall": builders put a log wall here, filled with rubble, to make the canal. Hurricane Agnes washed it out completely in 1972, and the NPS put this retaining wall (without logs).
Great Falls Tavern on the C&O canal in Potomac, Maryland
Canal prism by White's Ferry. Note ruins of abandoned grainery on left.
Lock 28 near Point of Rocks, Maryland
Lock 33 near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Cushwa Basin and Visitor Center at Williamsport, Maryland
The canal at Hancock, Maryland
Paw Paw Tunnel near Paw Paw, West Virginia
Lock 69 pool at Oldtown, Maryland
Looking at the end of the canal. Guard lock #8 is on the left side at the end. Highway bridge in background is I-68.
- Bear Island
- Billy Goat Trail
- Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Association
- Great Falls of the Potomac River
- Olmsted Island
- List of canals in the United States
- Locks on the C&O Canal
- Tidewater Lock
- Canal Place, Cumberland
- Aqueducts on the C&O Canal
- "The Grand Old Ditch: the C&O In American Transportation History "
- Hahn, Pathway, 1.
- Kytle p. 10
- Kytle, p. 12
- Ward, George W. Early Development of Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Project. [Johns Hopkins Press]. Retrieved 2013-12-20. p.63
- Kytle p. 20
- Kytle p. 25
- Bearss, Edwin C, The Composite Locks, NPS, 1968, p. 57
- Hahn, Towpath Guidep. 7
- According to the Army Engineers report in 1874–1875 the B & O railroad mainline from Cumberland to Pittsburgh follows what was originally surveyed for the canal. See Hahn, Pathway. 258–259
- Unrau p. 55
- Unrau p. 56
- Unrau, Harland D. Historic Structure Report the Culverts, Historical Data. National Park Service, Denver Colorado, January 1976. p. 6-7
- Unrau p. 105
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 27
- Kytle p. 27
- Unrau p. 25
- Unrau, Harland D. "Historical Structure Report, The Canal Prism, Including Towpath with Canal Berm and River Revetments Historical Data". [US Department of the Interior, National Park Service]. Retrieved 2013-08-02. p. 45
- Hahn Towpath p. 60-61
- Unrau p. 227
- Unrau p. 239
- Kytle, p. 84
- Unrau p. 41
- Kytle p. 33-34
- Kytle p. 43
- Lynch, John A. "Justice Douglas, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, and Maryland Legal History". University of Baltimore Law Forum 35 (Spring 2005): 104–125.
- Unrau, Canal Prism, p. 42
- Kytle p. 84
- Unrau, Canal Prism, p. 43
- Coordinates of Lock 1:
- Coordinates of tidewater lock:
- Hahn, Pathway, 6.
- ""The Canal Connection" marker". HMdb.org: The Historical Marker Database. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
- "Washington City Canal: Plaque beside the Lockkeeper's House marking the former location of in Washington, D.C.". dcMemorials.com: Memorials, monuments, statues & other outdoor art in the Washington D.C. area & beyond, by M. Solberg. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
- ""The Washington City Canal" marker". HMdb.org: The Historical Marker Database. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
- ""Lock Keeper’s House" marker". HMdb.org: The Historical Marker Database. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
- Coordinates of lock keeper's house:
- Coordinates of abutment and canal bed of Potomac Aqueduct Bridge:
- Unrau, Canal Prism, p. 49
- Unrau, Canal Prism, p. 50-51
- Unrau, Canal Prism, p 52
- Edwin C. Bearss. "The Composite Locks". [US Department of the Interior, National Park Service]. Retrieved 2013-05-24. p.20
- Bearss p. 33
- Unrau, Canal Prism, p. 56
- Kytle p. 53-54
- Unrau p. 251
- Unrau p. 174 ff
- Unrau p.207, 208
- Bearss p. 57
- Kytle p. 64
- Mackintosh, 1.
- Hahn, Pathway, 7.
- Kytle p. 61, note #10
- Hahn, Pathway. 257
- 41st annual report of the C&O Canal Company (1869), p. 4-5
- Unrau p. 476
- Unrau p. 813
- Unrau p. 811
- Unrau p. 814-815
- Unrau p. 457.
- Unrau p. 814
- Unrau, p.446-447
- Unrau p. 498
- Hahn, Boatmen, p. 15-17
- Kytle, p. 154-155
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 42
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 49
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 48
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 47
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 79
- Unrau p. 499
- Shaffer, p. 62
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 79.
- Unrau p. 848
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 25
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 62
- Peck, Garrett (2012). The Potomac River: A History and Guide. Charleston, SC: The History Press. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-1-60949-600-5.
- Unrau p. 208 footnote, 470
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 62-63
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 99-100
- Unrau p. 167, 238
- Unrau p. 336
- Kytle p. 71-72.
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 55
- Unrau p. 185
- Hahn Towpath, p. 51
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 82.
- Unrau p. 343
- Unrau p. 251-252
- Kytle p. 145-146
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 70
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 69
- Kytle, p.66
- Kytle p.67
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 75
- Kytle p. 271
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 36, 86, 96
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 96
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 86
- http://www.canaltrust.org/quarters/pdf/Pennyfield_Lock_CLI.pdf p. 93
- National Park Service, "The Paw Paw Tunnel is 3118 feet (950 m) long and is lined with over six million bricks. The 3/4 mile long tunnel saved the canal builders almost six miles (10 km) of construction along the Paw Paw bends of the Potomac River. It took twelve years to build and was only wide enough for single lane traffic."
- Coordinates of inclined plane:
- Unrau p. 480
- Hahn Towpath Guide p. 20
- Skramstad, Harold. “The Georgetown Canal Incline” Technology and Culture, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Oct. 1969), p. 555
- Hahn Towpath Guide p. 19
- Unrau p. 578
- Unrau p. 594
- Shaffer p. 83
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 97, for instance
- Unrau p. 239-241
- Unrau p. 331
- Unrau p. 338
- Unrau p. 761
- Unrau p. 337
- Unrau p. 349-350
- Unrau p. 357
- Hahn, Boatmen, p. 29
- Unrau p. 360.
- Hahn, p. 64
- Unrau p. 365
- Unrau p. 367
- Hahn, boatmen p. 40
- Unrau p. 383
- Unrau p. 808
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 76
- Unrau p. 724
- Kytle p. 221
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 112
- Unrau p. 360-361
- Unrau p. 820
- Unrau p. 219-220
- Hahn Pathway p. 40
- Kytle p. 173
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 14
- Kytle p. 155
- Kytle p. 171 Footnote
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 64
- Unrau p. 220
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 15
- Unrau p. 344
- Unrau p. 345
- Unrau p. 806
- Unrau p. 818
- Unrau p. 810
- Springer, Ethel M. Canal Boat Children. U.S. Department of Labor, 1923. http://www.whilbr.org/assets/uploads/CanalBoatChildren.pdf p.5
- Springer p. 6
- Springer p. 8
- Springer p. 4
- Unrau p. 819
- Unrau p. 765
- Springer p. 11
- Kytle p. 133
- Springer p. 7
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 21-22
- Unrau p. 817
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 68-69
- Hahn, Boatmen p. 66
- Hahn, Towpath Guide p. 198
- Hahn Boatmen, p. 54
- Hahn Towpath, P. 36
- Hahn Towpath Guide, p. 46
- Hahn, Towpath P. 89
- Hahn, Towpath guide, p. 96
- Hahn, Towapath Guide, p. 158
- Hahn, Towpath Guide P. 169
- See Unrau p. 470. First installed in 1856 at south branch, but later moved upstream to here in 1872. According to Hahn (Towpath Guide) the pump's capacity was 25 cu. ft per sec. Note that a lock (about 11400 cu ft) can consume 50 cu ft/sec (355 gal/sec) when filling.
- Unrau p. 318
- Donald R. Shaffer. "We are Again in the Midst of Trouble: Flooding on the Potomac River and the Struggle for the Sustainability of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, 1828-1996". [US Department of the Interior, National Park Service]. Retrieved 2013-05-23. p. 64
- Unrau p. 321
- Shaffer p. 65
- "Floods on Potomac". Retrieved 28 March 2014.
- "Teams Assess C&O Canal Damage On the Potomac: Last Weekend's Floods Washed out Sections of the Historic Park's Towpath and Walkways. Many Areas Will Be Closed Indefinitely". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
- Specific Reports/CHOH YTD Report?RptMonth=9/1/2013&Park=CHOH "National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics". National Park Service. Retrieved March 29, 2014.
- Shaffer p. 71
- Shaffer, p. 70
- Shaffer p. 73
- Shaffer p. 76
- Shaffer p. 78
- Shaffer p. 79
- "Associate Justice William O.Douglas". National Park Service. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
- "16 USC CHAPTER 1, SUBCHAPTER LVI: CHESAPEAKE AND OHIO CANAL NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK". Office of Law Revision Council. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
- "The C&O Canal National Historical Park will be closed for the duration of the government shutdown.". Canal Trust. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
- Scott Douglas. "How the Government Shutdown Is Affecting Runners". Runner's World. Rodale. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
- "The C&O Canal Trust: About Us". C&O Canal Trust. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
- "Plan Your Visit". NPS. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15.
- "Maryland Historical Trust". National Register of Historic Places: Western Maryland Railroad Right-of-Way, Milepost 126 to Milepost 160. Maryland Historical Trust. 2008-10-05.
Hahn, Thomas F. Swiftwater (1980). The C & O Canal Boatmen, 1892–1924. Shepherdstown, WV: American Canal and Transportation Center.
Mackintosh, Barry (1991). C&O Canal: The Making of A Park. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, Department of the Interior.
Unrau, Harland D. "Historical Resource Study: Chesapeake & Ohio Canal". [US Department of the Interior, National Park Service]. Retrieved 2013-05-02. This resource survey has a lot of information unavailable elsewhere on the construction and operation of the canal.
- Butcher, Russell D. (1997). Exploring Our National Historic Parks and Sites. Roberts Rinehart Publishers
- National Park Service. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Retrieved 2010-05-11.
- Life on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, 1859 [York, Pa. : American Canal and Transportation Center, 1975]
- Achenbach, Joel. The Grand Idea: George Washington's Potomac and the Race to the West, Simon and Schuster, 2004.
- Blackford, John, 1771-1839. Ferry Hill Plantation journal: life on the Potomac River and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, 4 January 1838-15 January 1839 2d ed. Shepherdstown, W. Va. : [American Canal and Transportation Center], 1975.
- Cotton, Robert. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Through the Lens of Sir Robert Cotton
- Fradin, Morris. Hey-ey-ey, lock! Cabin John, Md., See-and-Know Press, 1974
- Gutheim, Frederick. The Potomac. New York: Rinehart and Co., 1949.
- Guzy, Dan. Navigation on the Upper Potomac and Its Tributaries. Western Maryland Regional Library, 2011
- Hahn, Thomas F. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Lock-Houses and Lock-Keepers.
- High, Mike. The C&O Canal Companion, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
- Kapsch, Robert and Kapsch, Elizabeth Perry. Monocacy Aqueduct on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Medley Press, 2005.
- Kapsch, Robert. The Potomac Canal, George Washington and the Waterway West.Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2007.
- Martin, Edwin. A Beginner's Guide to Wildflowers of the C and O Towpath, 1984.
- Mulligan, Kate. Canal Parks, Museums and Characters of the Mid-Atlantic, Wakefield Press, Washington, DC, 1999.
- Mulligan, Kate. Towns along the Towpath, 1997. (Available from C &O Association) Here is Chapter 3 about Seneca.
- National Park Service, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Washington, DC: NPS Division of Publications, 1991.
- Rada, James Jr. Canawlers, Legacy Press, 2001.
- Southworth, Scott, et al. Geology of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park and Potomac River Corridor, District of Columbia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1691, 2008.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.|
- Official National Park Service Site
- CanalBird.com - "About The C&O Canal"
- Jack Rottier photographs and papers of the C and O Canal Online Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library, The George Washington University.
- The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
- C&O Canal Bicycling Guide
- C&O Canal Association
- The economic impact of the C&O Canal on canal communities in Washington County, Maryland
- Thomas Hahn Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Collection Finding Aid, Special Collections Research Center, Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library, The George Washington University
- The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Documentary produced by WETA-TV
- Official website
- CanalBird.com - "About The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal"
- C&O Canal is part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network
- The Building of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal - A National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan