• Historic Shot of Canal Boat on the Canal

    Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

    National Historical Park DC,MD,WV

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  • Water Pump Handles Temporarily Removed

    Evitts Creek Hiker-Biker Campground water pump handle has been removed due to bad water samples. Handles will be reinstalled 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. More »

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 upstream entrance Paw Paw Tunnel.

The Paw Paw Tunnel is 3,118 feet long and is lined with almost six million bricks. The 2/3 mile long tunnel saved the canal builders almost six miles of construction along the Paw Paw bends of the Potomac River. The project took twelve years to complete. The tunnel was only wide enough for single lane traffic. More...