Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Is Completed And Opened

On October 10, 1850, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was completed and opened for business along its entire 184.5 mile length from Washington, DC to Cumberland, Maryland.

Sections of the canal opened for navigation as they were completed; from Georgetown in Washington, DC to Seneca, Maryland in 1831; then to Harpers Ferry in 1833; to Hancock in 1839; and finally to Cumberland in 1850.

Before the C&O Canal was built, there were many attempts to improve transportation along the Potomac River. The Potomac was the only river on the east coast to bisect the Appalachian mountain barrier, and therefore was considered the best route for Western trade. As early as 1749, the Ohio Company of Virginia (a land and trading venture organized by prominent Englishmen and Virginians) established trails and wagon roads along the Upper Potomac River Valley, linking it to the Monongahela River (a tributary of the Ohio River).

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, abbreviated as the C&O Canal, and occasionally referred to as the "Grand Old Ditch," operated from 1836 until 1924 parallel to the Potomac River in Maryland from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, D.C. The total length of the canal is about 184.5 miles (300 km). The elevation change of 605 ft (185 m) was accommodated with 74 canal locks. To enable the canal to cross relatively small streams, over 150 culverts were built. The crossing of major streams required the construction of 11 aqueducts (10 of which remain). The canal also extends through the 3120 ft (950 m) Paw Paw Tunnel. The principal cargo was coal from the Allegheny Mountains. The canal way is now maintained as a park, with a linear trail following the old towpath, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.