The story of the canal is a story of people. Prominent individuals envisioned a developed nation and desired a gateway west. Immigrants performed back-breaking labor constructing the manmade waterway, all in search of prosperity and a new beginning in America.
Along the banks of the Potomac River communities grew and businesses boomed, as the canal brought new demands in goods and services. Skilled engineers and masons designed and built beautiful stone cut aqueducts, 74 functioning locks, and a tunnel attributed by many as a "wonder of the world" in order for the canal to function.
Evidence of men and women who struggled to earn a living on the canal is still visible today. Families lived and breathed canal life, some for generations, and most operated their boats 7 days a week, up to 18 hours a day.
Canal boats served as a business, a home and a barn for the mules. The living space for boat crews or families was small, barely 12 feet by 12 feet. Each week the boat and crew would travel 184.5 miles, heading east or west, to load or unload, and then back again. A round trip consisted of more than 360 miles and boat crews were fortunate to earn $15 per trip, or about five cents per mile, for their efforts.
From the beginnings of the Patowmack Canal, predecessor to the C&O Canal, to the making of a national historical park, thousands of people have driven and shaped the stories we associate with the canal and its course in our nation's history.
To learn more about the C&O Canal's unique history search the links at the top of the page or contact our Staff and Offices for additional information.