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Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

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Title: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park  
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Language: English
Subject: Cumberland, Maryland, List of islands on the Potomac River, Billy Goat Trail, List of parks in the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
Collection: 1938 Establishments in the United States, 1938 Establishments in Washington, D.C., Buildings and Structures in Hagerstown, Maryland, Canal Museums in the United States, Canals on the National Register of Historic Places, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Cumberland, Maryland, Historic Districts in Morgan County, West Virginia, Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, Long-Distance Trails in the United States, National Historical Parks of the United States, National Register of Historic Places in Maryland, National Register of Historic Places in Morgan County, West Virginia, National Register of Historic Places in Washington, D.C., Parks in Allegany County, Maryland, Parks in Cumberland, MD-Wv-Pa, Parks in Frederick County, Maryland, Parks in Montgomery County, Maryland, Parks in Washington County, Maryland, Parks in Washington, D.C., Parks on the National Register of Historic Places in West Virginia, Protected Areas Established in 1938, United States National Park Service Areas in Washington, D.C.
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
Map showing the location of Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Location extending from USA
Nearest city Washington, D.C.
Area 19,586 acres (7,926 ha)
Established September 23, 1938
Visitors 3,937,504 (in 2011)[1]
Governing body National Park Service
Park map

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park is a Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 184.5 miles (296.9 km), and was designated as the first section of U.S. Bicycle Route 50 on October 23, 2013.[2][3]


  • The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal 1
    • Federal Government purchases Canal 1.1
  • Creation of the national park 2
    • The Douglas Hike 2.1
    • National Monument, then National Park 2.2
    • Floods of 1996 2.3
    • Restoration efforts 2.4
    • Today 2.5
      • Hiker biker campsites 2.5.1
  • Gallery 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

Construction on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (also known as "the Grand Old Ditch" or the "C&O Canal") began in 1828 but was not completed until 1850.[4]:1 Even then, the canal fell far short of its intended destination of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Instead, the canal terminated at Cumberland for a total distance of approximately 184.5 miles. Occasionally there was talk of continuing the canal, e.g. in 1874, an 8.4 mile long tunnel was proposed to go through the Allegheny Mountains,[5] and there was a tunnel built to connect with the Pennsylvania canal.[6] Even though the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) beat the canal to Cumberland, having arrived eight years earlier, the canal was not entirely obsolete. It wasn't until the mid 1870s that through improved technology, specifically with larger locomotives and air brakes, the railroad was able to set rates lower than the canal, sealing its fate.[7]

The C&O Canal operated from 1831 to 1924 and served primarily as a means to transport coal from the Allegheny Mountains to Washington D.C.[8]:6 The canal was closed in 1924 in part due to several severe floods that had a devastating impact on the financial condition of the canal.[9]

Federal Government purchases Canal

Work on restoring Lock 16 on the canal in 1939.

In 1938, the abandoned canal was obtained from the B&O Railroad by the United States in exchange for a loan from the federal

  • Chesapeake & Ohio Canal NHP - Official site
  • - "About The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal"
  • C&O Canal is part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network
  • The Building of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal - A National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan

External links

  • Butcher, Russell D. (1997). Exploring Our National Historic Parks and Sites. Roberts Rinehart Publishers
  • National Park Service. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Retrieved 2010-05-11.
  1. ^ "National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics". National Park Service. Retrieved October 5, 2012. 
  2. ^ Vitale, Marty (October 28, 2013). "Meeting Minutes for October 17, 2013, and Report to SCOH October 18, 2013 (Addendum October 28, 2013)" (PDF). Denver, Colorado: Special Committee on U.S. Route Numbering,  
  3. ^ "New U.S. Bicycle Routes Approved in Maryland and Tennessee". Missoula, Montana:  
  4. ^ Mackintosh, Barry (1991). C&O Canal: The Making of A Park. Washington, DC: National Park Service, Department of the Interior. 
  5. ^ Hahn, Pathway. 257
  6. ^ Davies, William E. (1999). The Geology and Engineering Structures of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal: An Engineering Geologist’s Descriptions and Drawings (PDF). Glen Echo, Md.: C&O Canal Association. Retrieved 2014-07-21.  p. ix. Davies does not indicate if this tunnel was ever used, nor its location.
  7. ^ Davies, p. ix
  8. ^ Hahn, Thomas (1984). The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal: Pathway to the Nation's Capital. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press.  
  9. ^ National Park Service. "Canal Operations". Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. Retrieved 2010-05-11. 
  10. ^ a b Lynch, John A. "Justice Douglas, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, and Maryland Legal History". University of Baltimore Law Forum 35 (Spring 2005): 104–125. 
  11. ^ Shaffer p. 71
  12. ^ "CHAPTER TEN: USING THE PARK". Archived from the original on 2013-06-21. 
  13. ^ Shaffer, p. 70
  14. ^ Shaffer p. 73
  15. ^ Shaffer p. 76
  16. ^ Shaffer p. 78
  17. ^ Shaffer p. 79
  18. ^ "Associate Justice William O.Douglas". National Park Service. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  19. ^ a b "The Battle to Save the Canal, Part V (from December 2011 Along The Towpath)" (PDF). Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  20. ^ Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Act, Pub.L. 91–664, January 8, 1971.
  21. ^ "16 USC Chapter 1, Subchapter LVI: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park". Office of Law Revision Council. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  22. ^ "Teams Assess C&O Canal Damage On the Potomac: Last Weekend's Floods Washed out Sections of the Historic Park's Towpath and Walkways. Many Areas Will Be Closed Indefinitely". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 17 March 2014. 
  23. ^ "The C&O Canal Trust: About Us". C&O Canal Trust. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  24. ^ "About the C&O Canal Association". C&O Canal Association. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  25. ^ "Plan Your Visit". NPS. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  26. ^ a b Kelly, John. "Answer Man: A Gate to Summers Past." The Washington Post. December 13, 2004.
  27. ^ Moeller, Gerard Martin and Weeks, Christopher. AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, D.C. 4th ed. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8018-8468-3
  28. ^ "National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics". National Park Service. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
  29. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  30. ^ "Maryland Historical Trust". National Register of Historic Places: Western Maryland Railroad Right-of-Way, Milepost 126 to Milepost 160. Maryland Historical Trust. 2008-10-05. 
  31. ^ "Park service rescinds C&O Canal entrance fee proposal".  
  32. ^ "park Planner" (PDF). NPS. National Park Service, Dept of the Interior. 2014-11-27. 
  33. ^ Hahn, Thomas F. Swiftwater (1993). Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal: Georgetown Tidelock to Cumberland, Revised Combined Edition. Shepherdstown, WV: American Canal and Transportation Center.   p. 24


See also

Gallery starts at Georgetown and goes upstream to Cumberland, Maryland.


Towpath Mileage Name Comments
16.6 Swains Lock Last free campsite
30.5 Chisel Branch
34.4 Turtle Run
38.2 Marble Quarry
42.5 Indian Flats
47.6 Calico Rocks
50.2 Bald Eagle Island
59.44 Permanently closed Former Blue Ridge campsite.
62.9 Huckleberry Hill
75.29 Killiansburg Cave
79.68 Horseshoe Bend
82.46 Big Woods
90.9 Opequon Junction
95.2 Cumberland Valley
101.28 Jordan Junction
110.0 North Mountain
116.0 Licking Creek Aqueduct
120.6 Little Pool
126.4 White Rock
129.9 Leopards Mill
133.6 Cacapon Junction
139.2 Indigo Neck
144.5 Devils Alley
149.4 Stickpile Hill
154.1 Sorrel Ridge
157.4 Purslane Run
162.1 Town Creek
164.8 Potomac Forks
169.1 Pigman's Ferry
175.3 Irons Mountain
180.1 Evitts Creek

The NPS maintains a number of hiker/biker campsites along the towpath, which have a water pump, picnic area, firepit, and latrine. These are available on a first come first served basis, and are about every 12 miles or so along the towpath. Here is a list of them (data from NPS):[32]

Hiker biker campsites

In January 2015, the National Park Service proposed adding entrance fees to virtually all access points along the towpath. In February, amid backlash from communities along the canal, the proposal was rescinded.[31]

In Allegany County, Maryland, the park includes the Western Maryland Railroad Right-of-Way, Milepost 126 to Milepost 160, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.[29][30]

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park now receives more than five million recreation visits annually. The NPS visitor centers have displays and interpretive exhibits on the history of the canal.

The park offers rides on two reproduction canal boats, the Georgetown and the Charles F. Mercer, (named after the first president of the Canal corporation, and not the first boat on the canal named Charles F. Mercer.) during the spring, summer and autumn. The boats are pulled by mules, and park rangers in historical dress work the locks and boat while presenting a historical program. Presently the park includes nearly 20,000 acres (80 km²) and receives over four million recorded visits each year.[28] Flooding continues to threaten historical structures on the canal and attempts at restoration. The Park Service has re-watered portions of the canal, but the majority of the canal does not have water in it.

Varied in its geography, the canal and its towpath along with the adjacent Potomac offers activities including running, hiking, biking, fishing, boating and kayaking, as well as rock climbing in certain locations. A small portion of the towpath near Harpers Ferry National Historical Park doubles as a section of the Appalachian Trail, and the Canal also offers a variety of wildlife and birdwatching opportunities.

The canal begins at its zero mile marker (accessible only via Thompson's Boat House), directly on the Potomac, opposite the Watergate complex. Author John Kelly, writing for the Washington Post in 2004, suggested that the name of the Watergate complex may derive from its location directly adjacent to the zero milepost of canal, where to this day, the canal's large wooden gate sits directly on the Potomac and adjacent to the complex.[26] Kelly wrote, a canal lock is "quite literally, a water gate." [26][27]


Today, several organizations work to preserve and restore the park’s beauty and history. The C&O Canal Trust,[23] founded in 2007, is the official non-profit partner of the National Park Service. The C&O Canal Association [24] is an all-volunteer citizens organization established in 1954 to help conserve of the natural and historical environment of the C&O Canal and the Potomac River Basin. Together they are making progress in restoration efforts of Canal infrastructure, fixing eroded sections of the towpath and re-watering sections of the Canal to keep it beautiful for both visitors and wildlife, as well as educating the community on the Canal’s rich history in interactive ways at the six different Great Falls Tavern, Brunswick, Williamsport, Hancock, and Cumberland, operated by the National Park Service and its rangers.[25]

Restoration efforts

The winter and summer of 1996 saw two separate floods. Following a blizzard in January, heavy rains washed away the snow and caused extreme flooding and run-off. This major winter flood swept across 80 to 90 percent of the canal and towpath, causing high waters, along with the adjacent Potomac River. Erosion due to the floods lead to heavy damages to the towpath and much of the infrastructure of the canal and park. Following the winter flood, there was an overwhelming need for volunteers in response to the damages caused. Unfortunately, in September, Hurricane Fran caused even more damage to the canal in multiple parts, requiring workers and volunteers to restore and reconstruct the towpath and re-water the canal, several major projects that would take an large amount of time and money to complete.[22]

Summer Flooding before and after in 1996

Floods of 1996

In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower made the canal a National Monument under the Antiquities Act, but that hardened the opposition to making the canal a national park. There was some support for making the Potomac River a national river instead.[19] Within ten years, the political climate had changed, and realizing that the national river plan was unsupportable, the idea of turning the canal into a historic park had little opposition. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Act [20] established the canal as a National Historical Park and President Richard Nixon signed it into law on January 8, 1971.[19][21]

National Monument, then National Park

The idea of turning the canal over to automobiles was opposed by some, including United States Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas. In March 1954, Douglas led an eight-day hike of the towpath from Cumberland to D.C.[10] Although 58 people participated in one part of the hike or another, only nine men, including Douglas, hiked the full 184.5 miles (297 km). Following this hike, Justice Douglas formed a committee, later to be known as the C&O Canal Association in 1957, which would draft plans to preserve and protect the Canal.[18] Serving as the chairman of this group, his commitment to the park proved successful.

The Douglas Hike

Creation of the national park

The Congress expressed interest in developing the canal and towpath as a parkway. Because of the flooding from the 1920s to the 1940s, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed building 14 dams, that would have permanently inundated 74 miles of towpath, as well as the Monocacy and Antietam aqueducts.[16] Around 1945, the Corps wanted to remove Dam #8, which would destroy any hope of rewatering the canal above Dam #5, as well as put a levee around in the Cumberland area. Much of this was done, with the NPS cooperating with the Corps, since maintaining an operating canal all the way to Cumberland was too expensive, as well as wanting to preserve the western parts of the canal.[17]

The Cumberland basin at the canal's terminus in 2013. This area has been changed drastically and is almost unrecognizable compared to how it was during the canal's operating days

The project was halted when the United States entered World War II and resources were needed elsewhere. In 1941, Harry Athey suggested to President Franklin Roosevelt that the canal could be converted into an underground highway or a bomb shelter with its roof for landing airplanes. The whole idea was deemed impractical due to the river's periodic flooding.[13] In 1942, freshets destroyed the rewatered sections of the canal. National Park Service (NPS) official Arthur E. Demaray pressed that the canal from Dam #1 be restored, to supply water to the Dalecarlia Reservoir in case sabotage or bombing destroyed the normal conduits of water. Since this transformed the canal into a concern of national security, in 1942, the War Production Board approved the work.[14] By 1943, Congress had funded the work, repairs were done, and the Park Service resumed boat trips in October 1943.[15]

in the 1960s. John Quincy Adams It was later replaced by the [12] boat, giving mule driven rides, began in 1941.Canal Clipper The first [11]

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