Canal History: Decline and Eventual Closing of the C&O Canal

A combination of declining revenues, more efficient modes of transportation and damaging floods was all working against the C&O Canal as the 1880s came to a close. When a pricetag of $1 million was placed on Canal repairs in the aftermath of the 1889 flood, operations came to a halt for a year and a half and were almost ceased permanently. Three railroads, also interested in the land along the Potomac jockeyed to purchase the Canal. The Canal’s longtime nemesis, the B&O Railroad, prevailed.

The railroad continued to operate the Canal for a little more than 30 years, but with insufficient revenue. Another flood in 1924 created enough damage to discontinue boating operations entirely. And this time there were no buyers to come to the rescue. Trucks had become the transportation of choice. Coal and western Maryland industry was in decline. The Canal era was over—and slowly the Canal bed and masonry structures began to show the inevitable signs of neglect.