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Couple on bow of a C&O Canal boat, circa 1900-1928
Photograph by E.B. Thompson, National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection, hpc-000060

One of the many remaining locks of the C&O Canal, 1961
Photograph by Jack E. Boucher, National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection, hpc-000425

Stretching 184.5 miles alongside the Potomac River between the nation's capital and Cumberland, Maryland, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park preserves remnants of America's transportation history. For nearly a century the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was the lifeline for communities and businesses along its route as it floated coal, lumber, grain and other products to market from 1828-1924. Laborers began digging with picks and shovels in 1828. When finished 22 years later, the waterway averaged 40 to 60 feet wide and six feet deep and included handsome stone aqueducts and a remarkable 3,118 foot long brick-lined tunnel. Seventy-four lift locks adjusted water levels for a 605-foot difference in elevation between the western terminus in the mountains and tidewater in the east.

The final section of the canal, which terminated at Cumberland, opened October 10, 1850. A joyful crowd gathered to celebrate the long awaited opening of the C&O. A procession of citizens and officials marched to the locks at the mouth of Wills Creek where five coal boats waited to start the run down to Georgetown. Even during its contruction, the C&O was competing with a powerful new form of transportation--the railroad. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had begun its East-West route on the same day as the canal, but it reached Cumberland eight years earlier. Handicapped by dry spells, floods, and winter freezes, the canal could not match the speed and dependability of its rival. Loss of business to the railroad combined with costly flood damage forced the canal the close in 1924.

Hundreds of original structures, including locks, lockhouses, and aqueducts, serve as reminders of the canal's role as a transportation system during the Canal Era. In addition, the canal's towpath provides a nearly level, continuous trail through the spectacular scenery of the Potomac River Valley. Every year millions of visitors come to hike or bike the C&O Canal in order to enjoy the natural, cultural, and recreational opportunities available.

The C&O National Historic Park is open daily from dawn to dusk. There are six visitor centers along the park, in Cumberland visit the Western Maryland Station Visitors Center at 13 Canal Street, Rm 304, open 9am to 5pm daily. Call 301-722-8226 for further information, or visit the park's website.

The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal is the subject of an online-lesson plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Register program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on properties listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

Preservation in Cumberland Cumberland Architects The C&O canal and B&O Railroad Cumberland History

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