The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was planned to link the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay with Pittsburgh and the Ohio River Valley. Construction began at Georgetown in 1828; by 1850 only 184 of the 365 miles were complete. Financial difficulties, construction delays, and competition from the faster, more efficient railroads brought new construction to a halt, and Cumberland became the western terminus of the C&O Canal. The city was a hub of trade activity as lumber, coal, grain, and produce were shipped by canal to Georgetown. Finished products and store goods were brought back on the return trip.
The C&O Canal and its basins had an extensive water system at Cumberland. After a destructive flood in 1924, canal operations ceased; later much of the area was filled in and (unreadable) an industrial site.
This 1870s photograph of the busy terminus overlooks a wharf and canal boats waiting to load. Church spires in the distance are still visible on the Cumberland hillside today.
Teams of two or three mules hitched to the 100 ft.tow lines pulled the canal boats along at 4 mph. Relief teams were stabled on board.
Railroads brought coal from the mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia to the wharves of Cumberland. Hoppers were pulled over the boats and opened; coal poured through chutes into the holds, where men distributed the coal into corners. Boats carried a maximum of 126 tons.
Over 500 Boats navigated the C&O Canal at its peak in the 1870s. All C&O boats were
built in the boatyards of Cumberland (circa 1900s photograph—Shriver Basin). Boatyards were active all year; emergency repairs were made during the boating season, and boats were caulked and repainted in the fall.
Typical canal boats were 92 feet long and 14.5 feet wide, designed to fit into the locks which were 98 feet by 15 feet.