TwHP Lessons

The Building of the
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

[Cover Photo] Canal Boat on the C & O
(National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection)

Birds still sing from the trees, and the Potomac River continues to rumble as it rushes through the Great Falls. Other sounds from the past can be imagined if one stands quietly on the towpath of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The shovels of immigrant workers scrape as they carve the canal out of the mountains and ridges along the river; hooves clop as the mules pull coal-laden boats down a crowded canal, their bells keeping beat with the footsteps of the small children who guide them; a brass lock horn blares and the shout "Heeeey Lock!" alerts a lock tender to an approaching boat; and voices murmur at nightfall as families tie up their boats after a long 16-hour day.

The rich history of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, also known as the C & O Canal, is vividly portrayed at several sites along its 184.5-mile route, a route that today forms a beautiful national park along the Potomac River in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Giant trees shade a sandy towpath between the river and the old canal bed, visited by thousands of hikers, bikers, birders, and naturalists who enjoy the spectacular scenery of the park. If they pause long enough, they can also hear the voices of those who lived and worked along the canal during an important era in American history.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. United States in 1821
 2. Principal canals built by 1860

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. George Washington's Influence
 on the C & O Canal

 2. The History of the Canal
 3. Serving the Potomac River

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Building the canal
 2. Plan for a typical canal boat
 3. Four Locks community
 4. Round Top Cement Company
 5. Boatyard at Cumberland, MD
 6. Daily life at the canal

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Living Beside a Canal
 2. Canals or Railroads?
 3. Transportation and the Local Community

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The C & O Canal National
Historical Park

This lesson is based on the C & O Canal National Historical Park, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.




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