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Coal Story

By Ranger Rita

Often as I am opening the Cumberland Visitor Center, a quote on the wall within the exhibit area by Hungarian author Mor Jokai catches my attention - "coal moves the world."

When I think about how much coal has been a part of the history of Western Maryland and the C&O Canal, it makes sense. George Washington, on an early visit to the area, remarked about the "stored mineral wealth" beneath the surface. Allegany County was home to the "best dressed miners" that worked in the deep mines along Georges Creek. These miners collected their nickels, quarters and dollars to help build the Frostburg Normal School for their children to attend. Today the school is known as Frostburg State University and is my alma mater. Part of the Frostburg campus is actually built over top abandoned mine shafts.

Countless loads of coal left the mines by short line railroad, came to Cumberland, and were transferred to long haul trains or canal boats headed east to Washington or Baltimore. Coal accounted for over eighty-five percent of the cargo on the C&O Canal. Each boat could hold over one hundred tons each. During the peak years of canal operations from the late 1860s to the mid-1880s, over eleven million tons of coal was hauled on the canal. This coal was destined to power steam ships and supply industries. Without the coal passing from the mines to Cumberland and onto waiting canal boats, surely the C&O Canal would not have operated as long as it did.

"Coal moved the C&O Canal" at Cumberland.