• Historic Shot of Canal Boat on the Canal

    Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

    National Historical Park DC,MD,WV

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  • NEW Overnight parking system

    Before parking a vehicle overnight in any Canal Parking area, visitors must register their vehicle through the new online registration system. Print your reciept and place on your dashboard. If unable to print, please visit the nearest visitor center. More »

  • Water Pump Handles Temporarily Removed

    Water pump handles at Bald Eagle Island, Huckleberry Hill, Jordan Junction and Big Woods Hiker Biker Campsites have been removed due to bad water samples. Handles will be reinstalled when good water samples are received.

  • Boat Tours at Great Falls

    Due to low water levels in the Great Falls area, call the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center (301-767-3714) in advance of your trip to confirm the mule-drawn boat tour schedule.

  • 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.

Canal Construction

Drawing of canal construction

Construction lasted about 22 years along the canal.

NPS Drawing

Canal Construction 1828-1850

On July 4, 1828, President John Quincy Adams began "The Great National Project" by turning over the canal's first shovel full of earth near Little Falls, five miles west of Washington, DC. The rocky ground embarrassed the president with three false starts, and foreshadowed how difficult construction would be. The high cost of labor, materials, and land far exceeded original estimates. Rough terrain, labor unrest, disease, and legal battles over land consistently delayed work on the canal. When the canal finally reached Cumberland 22 years later, the original plan to extend the canal to the headwaters of the Ohio River in Pittsburg had long since been abandoned.

Photo of a stone mason working on a lock wall

Masons often claimed their work was not a procedure but an art.

NPS Photo

Construction scenes were often described as a dizzy stir of activity. Irish, German, Dutch, and English immigrants, promised a better life in America, worked long hours for little pay using primitive tools to dig the canal. Masons, stonecutters, carpenters, and blacksmiths were employed to create the engineering marvels along the canal. These included 11 multi-arched aqueducts and a 3118-foot long brick-lined tunnel. Seventy-four lift locks raised and lowered water levels, working like a staircase to adjust for a 605-foot difference in elevation between Georgetown and Cumberland. Sections opened for navigation as they were completed: Georgetown to Seneca in 1830, then to Harpers Ferry in 1833, to near Hancock in 1839, and finally to Cumberland in 1850. In October of that year, the first five boats filled with coal traveled the distance of the canal.

Did You Know?

Photo of park rangers interpreting building the canal.

Canal historians estimate approximately 35,000 laborers helped dig the canal as well as build aqueducts, culverts, locks, lock houses, etc. It took 22 years to build the canal from Georgetown, DC to Cumberland, MD. Much of the workforce were immigrants from Ireland and western Europe. More...