Chesapeake & Ohio Canal
National Historical Park
1850 Dual Highway, Suite 100
Hagerstown, MD 21740-6620
Park Headquarters 301-739-4200
Georgetown Visitor Center 202-653-5190
Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center 301-767-3714
Brunswick Visitor Center 301-834-7100
Williamsport Visitor Center 301-582-0813
Hancock Visitor Center 301-678-5463
Cumberland Visitor Center 301-722-8226
Explore to the Chesapeake and
Ohio Canal National Historical Park!
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
is a United States National Historical Park located
in the District of Columbia and the states of
Maryland and West Virginia.
The park was established as a National Monument
in 1961 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in order
to preserve the neglected remains of the Chesapeake
and Ohio Canal along the Potomac River along with
many of the original canal structures. The canal and
towpath trail extends from Georgetown, Washington,
D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 184.5
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. Even then, the canal fell
far short of its intended destination of Pittsburgh,
Instead, the canal terminated at Cumberland,
Maryland for a total distance of approximately 184.5
miles. The canal was already considered obsolete by
the time it was completed because a railroad line
had arrived in Cumberland eight years before the
canal was finally finished.
The C&O Canal operated from 1836 to 1924 and
served primarily as a means to transport coal from
the Allegheny Mountains to Washington D.C. 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.
Creation of the national park
The abandoned canal was purchased in 1938 by the
United States Government and placed under the care
of the National Park Service, which planned to
restore it as a recreation area. Although the bottom
22 miles of the canal were repaired and re-watered,
the project was halted when the United States
entered World War II and resources were needed
After the war, Congress expressed interest in
developing the canal and towpath as a parkway.
However, 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.
Although 58 people participated in one part of
the hike or another, only nine men, including
Douglas, hiked the full 182 miles. Popular response
to and press coverage of the hike turned the tide
against the parkway idea and, on January 8, 1971,
the canal was designated a National Historical Park.
The park today
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical
Park now receives more than three million recreation
visits annually. The National Park Service operates
visitor centers at six different locations along the
canal: Georgetown, Great Falls Tavern, Brunswick,
Williamsport, Hancock, and Cumberland. These visitor
centers have displays and interpretive exhibits on
the history of the C&O Canal.
Visitors can also experience the canal by taking
a ride on one of the park's two mule-powered canal
boats. These restored boats operate during the
summer months at both Great Falls and Georgetown.
The old canal towpath now provides a way for
hikers and bikers to see the beautiful Potomac River
Valley. A small portion of the towpath near Harpers
Ferry National Historical Park doubles as a section
of the Appalachian Trail.
Flooding continues to threaten historical
structures on the canal and attempts at restoration.
In January 1996, a major flood of the Potomac River
inflicted extensive damage on the canal and some of
the associated structures. The Park Service has
re-watered portions of the canal, but the majority
of the canal does not have water in it.
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.
- North Branch
- Spring Gap
- Paw Paw Tunnel
- Little Tonoloway
- McCoy's Ferry
- Four Locks
- Big Slackwater
- Dam 4
- Dargan Bend
- Lock 30
- Nolands Ferry
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