• 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, 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 Operation

Photo of historic canal boats

Canal boats had to refill their supply of coal in order to gain a profit.

NPS Photo

Canal Operation 1850-1924

The seven-day trip from Cumberland to Georgetown was a long and demanding journey. Most of the family's eighteen-hour day was devoted to moving the cargo, mostly coal, down the canal. The hours on the quiet stretches between locks could be tedious, but encounters with other boats and locking through furnished the opportunity for all-too-brief exchanges with other canallers.

Because the boat was designed for cargo, those aboard had to content themselves with the smallest of accommodations: a 12'x12' cabin was the family's quarters for the trip. Although small, the cabin contained all the necessities: a coal burning stove, bunk beds with hay mattresses, a table, and a small cupboard for supplies. The boats also included a stable for the mules and a hay storage area.

Lock tenders were also an important part of canal operations. Living in rent free houses just beside their locks, the lockkeepers worked "dawn to dawn", constantly on duty to lock through approaching boats. The lock tender listened for the boatman's horn and his cry of "Hey-y-y-y Lock!" which signaled the canal was, at any hour, hard at work.

Mother Nature's wrath took its toll on the canal over the years. Repeated flooding closed the canal for months, even whole seasons. Furthermore, the canal could not match the speed or dependability of its rival, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The railroad, which stretched west many years ahead of the canal, had captured almost all of the canal's trade by 1924 when another devastating flood struck. This time, no repairs were made and the canal ceased commercial operations.

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...