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The C&O Canal required 22 years to build, never reached past Cumberland, and was only profitable for a relatively short period of time. Still, thousands of workers might have found satisfaction in knowing the Canal they built has become a 184.5-mile recreational resource that will be enjoyed for generations to come.

It wasn’t always going to be that way. The abandoned Canal was ignored for many years after it stopped operation in 1924. After World War II, one proposal to dam the Potomac River and another to create a parkway would have each destroyed the Canal. A third idea emerged that would create a linear park and walkway along the towpath. The park proposal wasn’t finding much support until Chief Justice William O. Douglas invited editors of The Washington Post to experience the walk. The editors endorsed the park approach shortly afterwards.

Variations of all three proposals continued to be considered for years. Finally, in 1971, President Richard Nixon designated the Canal a National Historical Park. Since that time, the Park Service has worked hard to restore the towpath and many Canal structures. It continues to attract hikers, bikers, horse riders, fishermen, nature lovers and historical preservationists.

You can read a much more detailed account of the Canal's history here or use the map below to explore that history for yourself!

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Heritage Areas:

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The Indian Deed

George Washington Cabin

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Evitts Creek Aqueduct

Patterson Creek (GW and Civil War)

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Michael and Thomas Cresap

Thomas Cresap Gravesite and Ginevan House

Michael Cresap House and Civil War Activity

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Woodmont Rod and Gun Club

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Fort Dawson

Hancock Tollhouse

Round Top Cement Mill

Fort Stoddert on the Tonoloways

Fort Frederick State Park

Green Spring Run/Furnace

School House

Mule Barn

Watch House

Middlekauff’s Dam/Labor Riot

Springfield Farm and Museum

Conococheague Aqueduct

Bollman Bridge

Battery Hill/Doubleday Hill


Falling Waters

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Heart of the Civil War Visitors Center

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Historic Shepherdstown Museum

James Rumsey Monument and Park

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Elmwood Cemetery


Thomas Swearingen Ferry & James Rumsey Bridge

Ferry Hill Plantation/C&O Canal Visitor Center


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James Rumsey Steamboat

Potomac Bridge, Henry Kyd Douglas, and John Brown

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Boteler’s Mill/Potomac Mill

Antietam Battlefield

Antietam Ironworks

Antietam Village

House Falls and Cow Ring Sluice

Shinhan Limestone Kilns