HistoryThe Great Falls of the Potomac have drawn people to the river's shore for centuries. To Native Americans it was a gathering place, to George Washington it was an impediment to navigation, to thousands of visitors every year it is an awe-inspiring site. Tourists have been drawn to the Great Falls of the Potomac long before there was a canal. The Great Falls Tavern carries on a long tradition of hospitality for visitors to the C&O Canal.
Soon after the canal's ground breaking in 1828 construction began on the original lockhouse. In response to travelers' requests for shelter and a meal, the locktender here at Great Falls, W.W. Fenlon, asked the Canal Company to build the three-story north wing for a hotel. Proposing himself as innkeeper but adding, "Mrs. Felon is better calculated for Land Ladie," he wrote. The hotel opened for business in 1831. The entrance door invited guests into a large, windowed room with fireplaces and a bar. As the inn's first proprietor Mr. Fenlon presided over lively entertainment like fishing parties, dances and social events in the "ballroom." The second floor was divided into ladies’ and mens’ dormitories. The third floor housed “the honeymoon suite.” The Inn was named “Crommelin House,” to honor Dutch investors in the canal.
The small community of Great Falls, Maryland grew up around the Crommelin House during the canal's operation. J.W. Carroll, the innkeeper at Crommelin House from 1878 to about 1892, hosted sumptuous holiday dinners for community members. He also promoted the town's annual jousting tournament. The Great Falls tournament of 1879 included a string and brass band and the crowning of a queen. A ball was held at Crommelin House that evening. By 1881, the festivities included picnicking, boat racing, and pigeon shooting. When the Great Falls community began to dwindle following the 1889 flood, the jousting tournament was moved to the town of Potomac.
Today the Great Falls Tavern (Crommelin House) serves as a visitor center for Park visitors.
● Nov 1830 W. W. Fenlon - A canal construction contractor, Fenlon becomes keeper of Locks 19 and 20 as well as the caretaker of the Tavern. He is given general charge over other lockkeepers operating between locks 15-18. He also owns and operates the original Charles F. Mercer packet boat.
● ~1848 Daniel Warner
● ~1851 Daniel Collins
● June 1858 Henry Busey
● 1859-1872 G.W. Case - has the family cooking done in the basement under the southern wing
● 1873 G.W. Case dies and his widow, Elizabeth Case, takes over operations
● 1875-early 1880s Howard A. Garrett, owner of a feed store at Great Falls, leases Crommelin
house from the Canal Company to operate as a hotel.
● 1878 Garrett subleases hotel to J.W. Carroll
● When Colonels John J. Abert and James Kearney, United States Topographical Engineers, reached Lock 20, in their examination of the Canal in June, 1831, they reported that “At this lock we found an excellent hotel kept by Mr. Fenlon. The house is built upon the ground of the company, and with the company’s funds, and is a necessary and great accommodation to those who visit this interesting work.”
Last updated: January 4, 2018