Historic Resources in the Park

The C&O Canal began as George Washington’s idea to open the Potomac River as an all-water transportation route to the Ohio River Valley. Construction began on the canal in 1828 in Georgetown, and was completed in 1850 when the canal reached its terminus in Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 184.5 miles. The elevation of the Potomac River falls 605 feet between Cumberland and Washington, DC, and thus 74 lift locks were built by the canal company to accommodate this elevation change.

The canal company hired lock keepers who lived in company houses next to the locks they tended. When the National Park Service purchased the canal in 1938 after the canal ceased operations, it inherited some 60 buildings including several of these lockhouses, of brick, stone or wood construction. Damage from flooding and neglect made some unserviceable, but others were well-maintained by those families who continued to live in the houses after the canal closed. Locks named for these residents are retained today, such as Rileys Lock, Violettes Lock, Swains Lock, and Pennyfield Lock. Of the 57 lockhouses that operated on the C&O Canal, only 26 presently remain.

The C&O Canal is blessed with a rich and diverse history. We have assembled the following reading list if you choose to explore its past on your own. All of these books, and many more, are available in the C&O Canal NHP visitor center bookstores and online fromĀ Eastern National.

Achenbach, Joel. 04. The Grand Idea. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Dilts, James. 1993. The Great Road. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Hahn, Thomas. 1996. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Lock-Houses & Lock-Keepers. Morgantown: West Virginia University, Institute for the History of Technology & Industrial Archaeology.

High, Mike. 00. C&O Canal Companion. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kapsch, Robert. 07. The Potomac Canal. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.

Kytle, Elizabeth. 1983. Home on the Canal. Seven Locks Press: Cabin John.

Peterson’s Field Guide Series (Trees, Birds, Insects, Wildflowers, etc.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Unrau, Harlan. 2007. Historic Resource Study: Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Hagerstown, Maryland: United States Department of Interior, National Park Service, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

Way, Peter. 1993. Common Labor. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

Welles, Judith. 2008. Cabin John: Legends and Life of an Uncommon Place. Cabin John Citizens Association.