Built between 1836 and 1839, these four locks (47, 48, 49 & 50) are made of blue-gray limestone from Prather’s Quarry. Together raising the canal approximately 32 feet, boats could cut quickly across Prather’s Neck instead of following the river bend.
The Four Locks were completed as the canal company was running out of money to pay its workers. Seizing 140 casks of gunpowder, the workers threatened to blow up the work they had completed if they weren’t paid their back wages. The locks were safe, however, as the canal company confiscated the gunpowder and paid the wages.
Unlike many other canal towns, which were founded before the canal began, Four Locks began as private land and developed into a town after the canal came through. Named for the four locks that traverse this quarter mile section, over 30 buildings once stood here, including residences, warehouses, stores, a post office, and a one-room schoolhouse -- everything a child and their family would need.
Here, it is easy to imagine the canal filled to the brim with water and canal boats full of coal gliding by. Picture the townspeople's day-to-day life -- adults purchasing ice at the warehouse to cool their drinking water and children walking to their school up on the hill. Can you hear canawlers calling to the lock tenders or conveying news from upstream to the store owner? Think of it as a small town with one interstate cutting through it -- the C&O Canal.
Like all communities, changes occur. After the canal closed in 1924, many left in search of work elsewhere. Summer residences were built and boating and fishing became popular. Today, the summer residences are also gone and Four Locks is quiet. It's almost a ghost town. Visitors still boat and fish, others ride bikes, walk, or jog. Some even spend the night in the Canal Quarters at Lockhouse 49. However, a few of the historic buildings still remain and it still feels like a small town. It also reminds me of my own childhood and how even though things change, some things still stay the same.
Add to Itinerary
You can now create your own itineraries to guide your C&O Canal exploration, or you can copy one of ours! Lean more about Itineraries.
Photo by: Jim Tomlin