• Historic Shot of Canal Boat on the Canal

    Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

    National Historical Park DC,MD,WV

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  • Towpath Reroute!

    6/14/14- Towpath breach at MM 106, just below Dam #5. Towpath Detour in place (this detour does not leave park property). Please be aware of possible towpath hazards due to heavy rains.

  • Water Pump Handles Temporarily Removed

    Purslane Run, Stickpile, Evitts Creek Hiker-Biker Campgrounds and Paw Paw Campground water pump handles have been removed due to bad water samples. Handles will be installed when good water samples are received.

  • Parking Lot Closure

    CSX is now beginning a phase of their bridge project that requires the closure of the Lock 74 parking lot for approximatly 18 months. Access to visitor parking near Lock 75 is now re-opened with a gravel parking lot at the site.

  • Boat Rides at Great Falls

    Regularly scheduled tour times for the mule-drawn canal boat at Great Falls have changed. In July and August 2014 tours will be offered Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00, 1:30 and 3:00. Please call the Visitor Center for more info: 301-767-3714. More »

Canal and River Structures

The canal itself was a "prism", wider at the water's surface than at the bottom, and large enough for two boats to pass each other. Digging and blasting the channel for the canal was hard and dangerous work, and the result was often just referred to as a ditch. The masonry parts were held in higher esteem, and were termed "works of art" in the canal company's documents. These included the locks, culverts, aqueducts, and the waste weirs that regulated the flow of water through the canal and turned it into an engine to lift and lower the canal boats.

The stonemasons were the most prominent craftsmen of the canal, painstakingly cutting blocks of stone to as small a tolerance as a half-inch. Unfortunately, this sort of craftsmanship is much too time consuming and expensive for the modern world. The highway bridges that vault the river and the canal are more sensibly formed of concrete, but this sort of construction did not develop until well after the canal was built. Concrete was not used on the canal until 1906, and is most commonly found as replacement work in waste weirs and lock pockets.

Some C&O Canal structures are:

Lift locks - raised or lowered boats much like an elevator

Lock houses - located next to locks; the lock keeper and his family lived inside with the lock keeper operating the lock as needed

Feeder Dams - built on the Potomac River, they supplied water to the canal

Waste weirs - diverted excess canal water back to the Potomac River, usually located near a dam

Culverts - diverted excess canal water under the towpath

The Paw Paw Tunnel - the only tunnel built on the canal

Did You Know?

Photo Potowmack Company canal lock at Great Falls Virginia.

George Washington's dream of connecting the eastern states with the western frontier led to the creation of the Patowmack Company. Canals were built around unnavigable parts of the Potomac River for improved commerce. The C&O Canal inherited the right of way after the Patowmack Company's demise. More...