For the first time since 1924, the historic Conococheague Aqueduct is fully operational, allowing a canal boat to pass over Conococheague Creek. Williamsport is now the only place in North America where visitors can view a variety of canal features in one place, including an operational lift lock and refurbished lockhouse, a railroad lift bridge, a canal turning basin and warehouse, and now a watered aqueduct.
The Conococheague Aqueduct, second largest of the eleven aqueducts on the 184.5 miles of the C&O Canal, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nearly 97 years ago, in April of 1920, the upstream wall of the Conococheague Creek Aqueduct gave way, crumbling into the creek below. The C&O Canal Company temporarily repaired the aqueduct with a wooden wall, but the canal only operated for three more seasons before being abandoned in the spring of 1924.
The restored Conococheague Aqueduct provides a watered section of the canal to allow for canal boat operations and other public uses between Lock 44 and approximately 450 feet upstream of the existing aqueduct (approx. 0.70 miles). The $10.2 million project took two years to complete, and was funded through federal, state, local and private dollars including national park entrance fees and Maryland's Transportation Alternatives and Bikeways programs.
Eventually, the entire section of the C&O Canal in Williamsport will be restored to its 1920s appearance so it can tell the story of this important time in American history.
What is the history of Conococheague Aqueduct?
C&O Canal aqueducts are "water bridges" that carry canal boats over creeks and rivers that flow into the Potomac River. Built from 1833 to 1835, the Conococheague Aqueduct is the fifth of eleven such "works of art" on the canal. It consists of three equal 60' arch spans extending 196' between abutments. In August 1863, Confederate soldiers damaged the Conococheague Aqueduct in an effort to stop the canal's transportation of coal to Georgetown where it was used by the Union. Repairs took four days and the canal returned to operation. In April 1920, a canal boat broke through the upstream wall of the aqueduct, falling into the creek below. This shut down the canal for over four months. Repaired with a timber wall, this version of the aqueduct functioned until two 1924 floods closed the canal for good.
What was the need for the project?
The Conococheague Aqueduct is perhaps the most publically accessible aqueduct on the entire C&O Canal. It was in poor condition and would have continued to deteriorate without stabilization and additional repairs. This project completion will provide visitors with a nationally unique experience of being able to enjoy an interpretive boat tour across a watered aqueduct.
How long did the project take to complete?
The project began August of 2017 and was completed August 2019.
What did the project include?
The project included constructing cofferdams within Conococheague Creek and rebuilding the aqueduct piers; rebuilding and lining the aqueduct prism so that it is safe, sustainable, and watertight; repairs to the stone work; installation of a period-appropriate guardrail; clearing the canal prism upstream including constructing a berm; and removal of the existing berm on the downstream side so that entire stretch could be re-watered.
How does this project benefit park visitors?
Completion of this project provides park visitors an opportunity to experience a watered transportation canal aqueduct. The project also restores a significant historic resource and provides unique opportunities for visitors.
How can I access the towpath at the Williamsport Visitor Center?
Pedestrians and cyclists are able to cross the canal at the historic railroad lift bridge (adjacent to Rt. 11). Parking is still available by the Cushwa Warehouse.
What is the railroad lift bridge?
Originally used to allow trains to cross the canal, visitors are now able to cross the bridge on a newly constructed stairway, which includes a low bike rail. (This is a great spot to get a view of the canal and aqueduct!).
Where can I find accessible parking near the towpath?
Parking is also available close to the towpath at Lockhouse 44 parking lot and from the Bollman Bridge at River Bottom Park. These are the best access points for visitors with bike trailers, strollers, or wheelchairs. Dam 5 is the next closest location along the towpath that also has parking.
Who can I contact if I have further questions regarding the restoration?
For more information, please contact the C&O Canal Williamsport Visitor Center by calling 301-582-0813.