Independence Day, July 4th, 1828, would be an important day for Cumberland, Maryland. On that day, far to the east, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad both broke ground. The finish line of these companies' race was the Ohio River. The prizes were markets for coal, lumber, and farm goods.
The canal followed the Potomac River for 184.5 miles, gaining 605 feet in elevation from Georgetown to Cumberland, as it headed for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In 1850 the canal finally reached Cumberland; the railroad had already arrived eight years earlier. Beaten by the railroad and financially exhausted by floods, the canal closed in 1924. Although it never linked with the Ohio River, for 74 years the canal provided an outlet for local products and labor, and helped build Cumberland into Maryland's second-largest city, rivaled only by Baltimore. Evidence of the canal's contributions surround you.
The Canal's Cumberland terminus in 1896.
Coal from the surrounding mountains rode the rails to meet canal boats at Cumberland. From here boatmen towed it downstream to Georgetown, about a week's journey.
Many Cumberland residents made a living from the canal, finding work building and repairing boats. Residents also were employed at the Footer's Dye Works, towering in the distance.
Map of the area.