Paw Paw Tunnel

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Paw Paw Tunnel
Paw paw east.jpg
East entrance
Location Allegany County, Maryland
Coordinates 39°33′20″N 78°27′46″W / 39.555556°N 78.462778°W / 39.555556; -78.462778Coordinates: 39°33′20″N 78°27′46″W / 39.555556°N 78.462778°W / 39.555556; -78.462778
Work begun June 1836
Opened 1850
Owner National Park Service
Traffic Canal and towpath/trail
Character Boats, pedestrians, bicycles, horses
Length 3,118 feet (950 m)
Tunnel clearance 24 feet (7.3 m)
Width 27 feet (8.2 m)
Paw Paw Tunnel is located in Maryland
Paw Paw Tunnel
Paw Paw Tunnel

The Paw Paw Tunnel is a 3,118-foot (950 m) long canal tunnel on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O) in Allegany County, Maryland.[1] Located near Paw Paw, West Virginia, it was built to bypass the Paw Paw Bends, a 6-mile (9.7 km) stretch of the Potomac River containing five horseshoe-shaped bends. The town, the bends, and the tunnel take their name from the pawpaw trees that grow prolifically along nearby ridges.


Construction on the tunnel began in 1836. Due to construction and financial problems, there was no work done from 1841 to 1847. The tunnel was opened for traffic (and essentially completed) in 1850, but the brick liner was not finished until after the tunnel was opened. The construction costs were $616,478.65.[2]

The project was planned to be completed in two years, but there were many difficulties in the process of construction. The construction company seriously underestimated the difficulty of the job. Violence frequently broke out between various gangs of immigrant laborers of different ethnicities, and wages were often unpaid due to the company's financial problems.[3] The tunnel was finally completed but nearly bankrupted the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. The lengthy construction and high cost forced the company to end canal construction at Cumberland, Maryland, in 1850, rather than continue on to Pittsburgh as originally planned. Though never one of the longest tunnels in the world, it remains one of the greatest engineering feats of its day.[4]

Boatmen and the tunnel[edit]

Film (part 2) which includes footage of the Paw Paw tunnel (at 0:30) during Canal Operating days. Some information in the film is incorrect: the tunnel was in use since 1850, not 1840, and is 3,118 feet (950 m) long, not a mile long.

Boatmen could usually tell if another boat was in the tunnel because the water level would be down about 4 inches (10 cm). Apparently the loaded boat going downstream had the right of way, but that was not often honored.[5]

The tunnel today[edit]

Today the Paw Paw Tunnel can be easily explored with a flashlight, as the towpath is still intact. Trekkers can return via the tunnel, or hike back over the 2-mile-long (3.2 km) Tunnel Hill Trail. This passes interpretive markers of the German and Irish workers who lived along the path during the tunnel's construction.

A rockslide in January 2013 closed the trail east of the tunnel for four months, so the tunnel could not be reached from the east side.[6] It reopened on April 17, 2013.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. National Park Service. Retrieved July 25, 2006. 
  2. ^ Unrau, Harlan D. (2007). Historic Resource Study: Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Hagerstown, Md.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. p. 251. LCCN 2007473571. 
  3. ^ Mozier, Jeanne. "Paw Paw Tunnel, A Handcarved Wonder". Travel Berkeley Springs. Retrieved August 22, 2010. 
  4. ^ Peck, Garrett (2012). The Potomac River: A History and Guide. Charleston, S.C.: The History Press. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-1609496005. 
  5. ^ Hahn, Thomas F. (1984). The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal: Pathway to the Nation's Capital. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press. p. 251. ISBN 0810817322. 
  6. ^ "Paw Paw Tunnel Closure". Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. National Park Service. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Paw Paw Tunnel Rock Slide Removed Towpath Reopens to the Public". Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. National Park Service. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 

External links[edit]