About This Lesson

This lesson is based on the National Register of Historic Places registration form for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and other documents. It was written by Sherilyn Seyler, Park Ranger at the C & O Canal National Historical Park, Hancock Visitor Center, and Kathleen Kupper, Supervisory Park Ranger at the Georgetown area of the C & O Canal National Historical Park. The program is sponsored, in part, by the Cultural Resources Training Initiative and Parks as Classrooms programs of the National Park Service. This lesson is one in a series that brings the important stories of historic places into the classrooms across the country.

Where it fits into the curriculum
Topics: This lesson could be used in units on the early industrial period of American history and in courses on geography or science and technology. It will help students realize the role canals played in western expansion and in the evolution of transportation by focusing on the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
Time period: Early to Mid 19th Century
Relevant United States History Standards for Grades 5-12

Objectives for students
1) To describe the importance of George Washington's role in the building of a Potomac River canal.
2) To explain the role canals played in the early industrial economy of the nation.
3) To outline the effect the C & O Canal had on the Potomac River Valley.
4) To research forms of transportation used in the students' own communities in the early days of development.

Materials for students
The materials listed below either can be used directly on the computer or can be printed out, photocopied, and distributed to students. The maps and images appear twice: in a low-resolution version with associated questions and alone in a larger, high-resolution version.
1) two maps that indicate U.S. borders in the early 19th century and principal canal routes at mid century;
2) three readings on early attempts to build a canal and the economic impact of the canal's completion;
3) a drawing showing the building of the Canal;
4) a plan for a typical canal boat;
5) four historical photographs showing the canal in use.

Visiting the site
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park is administered by the National Park Service. The park is 185 miles long and follows the path of the Potomac River. It begins in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., where there is a visitor center and mule-drawn boat rides. Other places of interest include the Great Falls and the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center, Harpers Ferry, Sharpsburg, the Paw Paw Tunnel, the Hancock Visitor Center, and Cumberland. For further information please Contact us.

The Building of the C&O Canal

Canal Questions

Setting the Stage

Map of US 1821

Map of Canals in 1860

George Washington's Influence

Serving the Potomac Valley

Building the Canal

A Typical Canal Boat

Four Locks

Round Top

Cumberland Boat Yard

Daily Life Along the Canal

Putting it all together

Supplementary Resources

A Journey on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (Online)

A Journey on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (Print)

Last updated: April 10, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1850 Dual Highway, Suite 100
Hagerstown, MD 21740


(301) 739-4200

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