5 Things You May Not Know about the Paw Paw Tunnel

The Paw Paw Tunnel near Oldtown, Maryland is one of the most notable features on the C&O Canal. The Tunnel itself is an incredible feat of engineering, and its construction alone has a colorful history. It has been featured in many photographs, and it is a Canal Discovery. Here are 5 things you may not know about this incredible part of the Canal!

1.The construction of the Tunnel nearly bankrupted the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company.
When plans for the Tunnel were approved, construction was expected to take only two years and to cost $33,500. Fights between workers and the extreme difficulty of the work extended the project by over a decade and by $566,500. Because of these difficulties, the Tunnel’s construction ended at Cumberland instead of Pittsburgh, which was the original ending point.

2. There were occasional fistfights between boatmen who refused to afford each other the right-of-way.
Boats would have a white light at the bow and a red light on the stern in order to signal their path of travel. It was understood that boats headed downstream would yield and leave the tunnel. However, there were many times when boatmen would refuse to allow each other the right-of-way, resulting in even more violence. Occasionally, boatmen would light fires in the tunnel to “smoke” the other boats out.

“Misty Fog at Paw Paw Tunnel”, by Wanda Poffenberger

Maybe the standoffs looked like this, who knows!

3. There are rumors that the Tunnel is haunted.
The construction of the Tunnel is colored with violent activity between workers of differing ethnicities. These clashes would lead to all-out brawls that ended in the destruction of local saloons and other establishments. The lockhouse at lock 64 2/3 burned down overnight, and the body of the lockkeeper was found inside. Some believe that his spirit now roams through the Tunnel. Paranormal specialists have also described seeing inexplicable shadows and hearing disembodied whispers.

“Paw Paw Tunnel Interior”, by Randy Miller

Make sure to have a flashlight with you when you enter the Tunnel, because the middle is extremely dark.

4. The Tunnel is one of the greatest engineering feats of the C&O Canal.
The Tunnel is nearly a mile long and is constructed of almost 6 million bricks. It cut 6 miles off the length of the Canal. The alternative to building the Tunnel was to make the Canal follow the Paw Paw Bends, a twisting 6-mile long section of the Potomac River. The Tunnel was chosen as the better option, which is great for us today, but its construction nearly bankrupted the C&O Canal Company at the time.

5. The Tunnel is named for the trees that line the Bends.
The pawpaw tree is common throughout the Eastern United States and is a fairly useful plant. It can eaten and can also used as an insecticide. In the past, Native Americans used its fibers to make ropes, fishing nets, and other materials.

“Exiting the Paw Paw Tunnel”, by Preston Paige Piper

Do you have any interesting stories regarding the Paw Paw tunnel? We’d love to hear about them!




By Maddie Liotta