The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

Introduction

Completed in 1850, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal grew out of an earlier vision led by George Washington as early as 1754 to make the Potomac River a more navigable waterway. Work began in 1828 with the intention of connecting the Chesapeake Bay to the rich Ohio River valley, but difficulties in the logistics and funding of the construction hampered the project. The canal had only reached Cumberland, Maryland, when the need for such a water way had been eclipsed by the implementation of steam powered locomotives and the construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The canal did, however, facilitate transportation of goods and raw material (especially coal) from western Maryland to Washington, D.C., covering 184.5 miles, 74 locks, and an elevation differential of 605 feet. The canal remained operational until 1924, when a major flood hastened the decision to close it down. In 1938 the U.S Government acquired the derelict canal from the B&O Railroad for $2 million and historic renovation began as a WPA project. A year later the canal was designated a public park. Designation as a National Historical Park came in 1971.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)

STANDARD 1: United States territorial expansion between 1801 and 1861, and how it affected relations with external powers and Native Americans.

Standard 1C: The student understands the ideology of Manifest Destiny, the nation's expansion to the Northwest, and the Mexican-American War.

5-12: Explain the economic, political, racial, and religious roots of Manifest Destiny and analyze how the concept influenced the westward expansion of the nation. [Examine the influence of ideas].

STANDARD 2: How the industrial revolution, increasing immigration, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed the lives of Americans and led toward regional tensions.

Standard 2A: The student understands how the factory system and the transportation and market revolutions shaped regional patterns of economic development.

5-12: Explain how the major technological developments that revolutionized land and water transportation arose and analyze how they transformed the economy, created international markets, and affected the environment. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Map of the Country Through Which a Canal to Connect the Waters of the Chesapeake and Ohio is Proposed to pass
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1824 
    NOTES: Issued in conjunction with: James Shriver, An Account of Surveys and Examinations, with Remarks and Documents, relative to the Projected Chesapeake and Ohio and Ohio and Lake Erie Canals, Baltimore, 1824.
    REPRODUCTIONS: Ordering Information
    SOURCE:  Maryland Memory Projects
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD

  2. DESCRIPTION:  Canal Currency
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1840
    NOTES: Transportation Issue from the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company in the amount of $10.  In the first half of the 19th century, U.S. banking laws allowed for almost any entity to issue currency.  Most of these notes were worthless by 1860. 
    SOURCE:  Westward Expansion
    REPOSITORY: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco 

  3. DESCRIPTION:  Chesapeake and Ohio Company Stock Certificates
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Washington, 1830
    LC NOTES: [4 stock certificates of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal company for five, ten and twenty dollars printed on 1 page]
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540

  4. DESCRIPTION:  Down the old Potomac
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Edison Manufacturing Co., 1917.
    NOTES: Download-able video which follows a week-long, 180-mile trip on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal through the Potomac Valley from Cumberland, Md., to Washington, D.C. Includes scenes of the locks in operation; a mile-long, hand-dug tunnel which was built in 1840; coal barges plying the canal; Maryland farming country; Harper's Ferry; and Great Falls.
    SOURCE:  American Memory
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division Washington, D. C. 20540   

  5. DESCRIPTION:  Statistics on the C & O Canal
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1841
    NOTES: Part of the 1840 Census, this document provides a summary of the 17 counties that were "tributaries" to the C&O Canal.
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington, D. C. 20540

  6. DESCRIPTION:  Canal in Operation
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  n. d.
    NOTES: The C&O Canal remained in operation into the 1920's when a flood destroyed portions of the canal system.  This photo and the x that follow provide illustration of the last days of this mode of transportation for goods in Western Maryland.
    SOURCE:  National Park Service, C&O Canal Historic Photos
    REPOSITORY:  C&O Canal, National Historical Park Headquarters, Hagerstown, MD 21740

  7. DESCRIPTION:  Along the Towpath
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  n. d.
    NOTES: Mules remained the source of transportation power for barges on the canal to the end.
    SOURCE:  National Park Service, C&O Canal Historic Photos
    REPOSITORY: C&O Canal, National Historical Park Headquarters, Hagerstown, MD 21740

  8. DESCRIPTION:  Mule Team
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  n. d.
    NOTES: Team of mules pulling a barge along the C&O Canal
    SOURCE:  National Park Service, C&O Canal Historic Photos
    REPOSITORY: C&O Canal, National Historical Park Headquarters, Hagerstown, MD 21740

  9. DESCRIPTION:  Barges in Transit
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: n. d.
    NOTES: Illustrates the movement of barges along the canal.  Note the electrical wires which contrast emerging technology with old
    SOURCE:  National Park Service, C&O Canal Historic Photos
    REPOSITORY: C&O Canal, National Historical Park Headquarters, Hagerstown, MD 21740

  10. DESCRIPTION:  Competing Modes of Transportation
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  n. d.
    NOTES: This photo contrasts the B&O Railroad and the C&O Canal.  It was the advent of rail transportation which superseded the canal as the primary mode of transport in America in the 1800's
    SOURCE:  National Park Service, C&O Canal Historic Photos
    REPOSITORY: C&O Canal, National Historical Park Headquarters, Hagerstown, MD 21740

  11. DESCRIPTION: Scene near Cumberland on Chesapeake 
    PHOTOGRAPHER: Hervey Laney
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: ca. 1890
    SOURCE: Robert G. Merrick Archives of Maryland Historical Photographs, MSA SC 1477-1-6870
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  12. DESCRIPTION: Scene on the Cumberland on Chesapeake 
    PHOTOGRAPHER: Hervey Laney
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: ca. 1890
    SOURCE: Robert G. Merrick Archives of Maryland Historical Photographs, MSA SC 1477-1-6872
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  13. DESCRIPTION: Cumberland on Chesapeake, people on barge on excursion 
    PHOTOGRAPHER: Hervey Laney
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: ca. 1890
    SOURCE: Robert G. Merrick Archives of Maryland Historical Photographs, MSA SC 1477-1-6811
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  14. DESCRIPTION: Darby's Mill on Chesapeake & Ohio Canal
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: ca. 1890
    SOURCE: Robert G. Merrick Archives of Maryland Historical Photographs, MSA SC 1477-1-5111
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  15. DESCRIPTION: Photographer's studio on Chesapeake & Ohio Canal
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: ca. 1890
    SOURCE: Robert G. Merrick Archives of Maryland Historical Photographs, MSA SC 1477-1-5586
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  16. DESCRIPTION: Houseboat with orchestra on Chesapeake & Ohio Canal
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: July 4, 1894
    SOURCE: Robert G. Merrick Archives of Maryland Historical Photographs, MSA SC 1477-1-5581
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  17. DESCRIPTION: Barges on the C & O Canal
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1910
    SOURCE: Robert G. Merrick Archives of Maryland Historical Photographs, MSA SC 1477-1-6203
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  18. DESCRIPTION:  Canal Maintenance Workers
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Oct. 1938
    NOTES: During the Great Depression, the government provided assistance to unemployed workers through programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Work Progress Administration (WPA) as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.  In this photo, CCC workers conduct maintenance and repair of the C&O Canal.
    SOURCE:  New Deal Network Photo Gallery
    REPOSITORY: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD 20740

  19. DESCRIPTION:  Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1954
    NOTES: In 1954 corresponded with the editors of the Washington Post regarding the C&O Canal, Justice Douglas challenged them to hike the entire 184 mile stretch of the canal in an effort to bring attention to, and discourage, plans to create a highway out of the old canal.  According to the NPS, C&O website, "Douglas provided a focal point for media attention and intensified the efforts of conservation groups such as the Wilderness Society and the National Parks Association that sought to preserve the canal. Many others, from preservationists to naturalists, from well-wishers to curiosity seekers, joined the hike, too, making it an unqualified success: the Washington Post retracted its initial editorial and the National Park Service abandoned the parkway idea in 1956."
    SOURCE:  National Park Service, C&O Canal Historic Photos
    REPOSITORY: C&O Canal, National Historical Park Headquarters, Hagerstown, MD 21740

Additional Media Resources

 C&O Canal Virtual Tour

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Towpath

Additional Instructional Resources

 The Building of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

A Visit to the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park

Secondary Resources

 Achenbach, Joel. The Grand Idea : George Washington's Potomac and the Race to the West , Simon and Schuster, 2004.

Blackford, John, 1771-1839. Ferry Hill Plantation journal : life on the Potomac River and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, 4 January 1838-15 January 1839 2d ed. Shepherdstown, W. Va. : [American Canal and Transportation Center], 1975.

Hahn, Thomas F. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal: Pathway to the Nation's Capital. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1984.

Hahn, Thomas F. Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal: Georgetown Tidelock to Cumberland. Shepherdstown, WV: American Canal and Transportation Center, 1985.

High, Mike. The C&O Canal Companion, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

National Park Service, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Washington, DC: NPS Division of Publications, 1991.

Sanderlin, Walter S. The Great National Project: A History of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1946.

Some journal articles linked to this site require password access due to copyright and other restrictions. Teachers participating in the Teaching American History in Maryland program with a valid University of Maryland (UMBC) Library card can access these materials through ResearchPort.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

C&O CANAL NHP HQTRS
1850 Dual Highway, Suite 100,
Hagerstown, MD 21740
(301) 739-4200
C&O Canal Association
(301) 983-0825 
National Archives & Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740
1-86-NARA-NARA

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Password Access to Materials

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Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Derrick E. Lapp.

 

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