• 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 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 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...