Life on the Canal

Life on the Canal (HM19YC)

Location: Cumberland, MD 21502 Allegany County
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Country: United States of America
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N 39° 38.958', W 78° 45.795'

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The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal ran from Georgetown in Washington, D.C. (Mile 0) to Cumberland, MD (Mile 184.5), paralleling the Potomac River. Most of the heavy shipping originated from the western terminus at Cumberland. Boatmen carrying coal, lumber, grain and cement passed through Hancock, Williamsport, Sharpsburg, the Harpers Ferry area and Brunswick on their way to Washington. D.C. where their cargoes were unloaded. A one-way trip usually took 5 to 7 days.

The lifeblood of the canal was its people—the canal builders, boatmen, locktenders, mule drivers and families who lived and worked on the canal. Days were long and life was hard for the many people who made the canal run.

Mules powered the heavy cargo boats by walking along the towpath to "tow" the boats to and from Washington. "Packet" or passenger boats operated as well and were often pulled by horses. The canal had a series of structures for boats to pass through or over—including lift locks, a tunnel, aqueduct bridges and culverts. In addition to strong competition from the railroads, nature often threatened the canal with recurring floods of the Potomac River. A flood in the Spring of 1924 closed the canal permanently for commercial shipping.

Center Painting
"Two Sisters" by John Louis Wellington (1878-1965) Courtsey of the Maryland Historical Society.
Cumberland artist John Louis Wellington (1878-1965) traveled the canal aboard "The Cumberland," an excursion packet, spent time near the boatyards, photographed, sketched and painted numerous watercolors of the C&O Canal in its later years. Wellington captured the busy yet tranquil essence of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal—the boats, the people, the beauty.

Bottom Left Photo
Mule team and driver

Center Photo
Boat emerging from the Paw Paw Tunnel

Left Photo
Travelers aboard an excursion packet ca. 1910
HM NumberHM19YC
Series This marker is part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal series
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Saturday, October 4th, 2014 at 3:41am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)17S E 691910 N 4391225
Decimal Degrees39.64930000, -78.76325000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 39° 38.958', W 78° 45.795'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds39° 38' 57.48" N, 78° 45' 47.70" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)301, 240
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 119 S Mechanic St, Cumberland MD 21502, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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