Paw Paw Tunnel
|Location||Allegany County, Maryland|
|Work begun||June 1836|
|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)|
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. Located near Paw Paw, West Virginia, it was built to bypass the Paw Paw Bends, a six-mile 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.
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. 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.
Boatmen and the Tunnel
Boatmen could usually tell if another boat was in the tunnel because the water level would be down about four inches. Apparently the loaded boat going downstream had the right of way, but that was not often honoured.
The Tunnel Today
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 two-mile-long Tunnel Hill Trail. This passes interpretive markers of the German and Irish workers who lived along the path during the tunnel's construction.
- Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. "Frequently Asked Questions." 2006-07-25.
- Unrau p. 251[broken citation]
- Jeanne Mozier. "Paw Paw Tunnel, A Handcarved Wonder." Accessed 2010-08-22.
- Peck, Garrett (2012). The Potomac River: A History and Guide. Charleston, SC: The History Press. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-1609496005.
- Hahn, Pathway p. 251.[broken citation]
- C&O Canal official NPS web page. "Paw Paw Tunnel Closure". National Park Service. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
- C&O Canal official NPS web page. "Paw Paw Tunnel Rock Slide Removed Towpath Reopens to the Public". National Park Service. Retrieved 18 April 2013.