Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

The C & O Canal runs for 184.5 miles from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD

The first idea for a canal was introduced as a bill submitted in 1774 to the Virginia governing body of the time by George Washington. His plan was to use the Potomac River as a means to move cargo, however, there were parts of the river that would be too dangerous for boats. He proposed to build a canal system that would enable navigation around those treacherous areas. After the Revolutionary War, his plans were set in motion and the Potowmack Canal Company was established with Washington at its helm. The canal was completed in 1802, three years after Washington’s death. It operated until 1828 when the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company took over Potowmack Canal Company and devised a plan to build a better canal system which would connect the Ohio River to the Chesapeake Bay. Under the new C & O plan, the canal would run next to the Potomac, but boats would not have to navigate the river. The construction period ran from 1828 to 1850, but the canal never made it to the Ohio River, mainly because the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad got there first. Moving cargo via the railroad was faster and more efficient. The canal was utilized from 1831 to 1924, and in its last years was used primarily for moving coal from the Allegheny Mountains to Washington, DC.

In 1938, the government purchased the canal with plans to turn it into a recreational area. President Eisenhower declared a portion of the canal a national monument in 1961. Ten years later, President Nixon signed a bill into law creating the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park.

Cushwa’s historic warehouse in Williamsport, MD, one of the three current visitor centers for the park

We chose to visit the Williamsport, MD portion of the park because it was the closest to our next destination. Our initial plans did not include this stop, but we are so glad we were able make the last minute change. Williamsport is the future home of the park’s headquarters. The National Park Service is currently refurbishing the site of a former lumber company that sits across the street from Cushwa’s.


This portion of the park sits at the confluence of the Potomac River (background) and Conococheague Creek (foreground). What a serene and beautiful place we found this to be on a lazy September morning. By the way, those trees on in the background are in West Virginia. Here the Potomac forms the border between West Virginia and Maryland.
The canal as it flows over the recently restored (in 2019) Conococheague Aqueduct
The 1879 Bollman bridge over the canal is one of the oldest standing iron railroad bridges in the US. Here you can see the towpath where mules would walk as they towed boats up and down the canal. Now, the towpath is used for a walking and biking trail. Trivia: the C & O Canal towpath at Harper’s Ferry, WV is part of the Appalachian Trail.

Wendell Bollman, a self-taught engineer who began his career at the age of 15, designed a specific type of truss, now called the Bollman Truss, that was used for many bridges built by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B & O) including the one shown above. Trivia: the B & O Railroad is the same one that sits between Illinois and Atlantic Avenues as depicted on the classic Monopoly game board.

Built in 1923, this strange-looking contraption is the only one of it’s kind on the C & O Canal. It is a railroad lift bridge that operated like an elevator to lower the tracks enabling trains loaded with coal to cross the canal. It is now a pedestrian bridge.
A view of the railroad lift bridge from underneath
A different view of the Bollman bridge with railroad tracks on the ground next to the canal. These tracks (along with the railroad lift bridge seen in the previous photos) would have been for the trains delivering coal to the power plant, part of which can be seen in the top right-hand corner of the picture.

For more information about this historic park, click here: https://www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm

We are going to end our trip to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park here, but we will leave you with one more look at the canal and towpath. Imagine warm sunshine, no breeze, the smells of the earth, and complete solitude with nothing to disturb you except the summery drone of an occasional cicada. This is that place.

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Until next time…

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road!

Mike and Kellye

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.