Washington D. C. and its Potomac River Canal

One does not think that a canal way that opened next to Washington D. C.s Potomac River in 1850 would still be a source of boating fun in 2014. But it was last weekend for Seabuddy. My photos contained here are from early November, 2014.

Canal Lock on the Potomac River

Canal Lock at Great Falls Tavern Visitor's Center

Today it is a paddling, canoeing, biking, walking, jogging, and scenic, tree lined adventure within Washington D.C. and onto Cumberland. The canal is now a park, with a fairly flat trail going along the old towpath and locks. This 184 mile long Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (or C& O Canal) goes along the river in its own hand-dug channel from Washington, D. C. to Cumberland, MD.  It was built and used as a commercial operation for this length from 1850 to 1924, when a flood damaged it beyond economic repair.

Seabuddy has studied cruising in canals for his book, Cruising Guide to New York Waterways and Lake Champlain. That book is a thick one, sort of like a Manhattan Yellow Pages on what to see and do by boat within N Y state and the states that its waterways share with N Y state. In other words areas of Vermont and Canada that share waterways with NY are also covered.

seabuddy book cruising guide N Y waterways and lake champlain

seabuddy's Cruising Guide book

My book is a firsthand account that details/covers about 1,100 miles of the popular waterways, including Lake Champlain, the Hudson River, the Erie Canal, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the Thousand Islands. My personal knowledge complements the data on the NOAA charts. Here is a link… http://www.amazon.com/Cruising-Guide-York-Waterways-Champlain/dp/1565542509/ref=sr_1_1_twi_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415632393&sr=1-1&keywords=new+york+waterways+and+lake+champlain

 

potomac river visitor's center

re-done Great Falls Tavern Visitor's Center

Now back to the C and O Canal. I visited one of the visitor centers that is open year around; the Great Falls Tavern Visitor’s Center. There is a lock here, but the water level was at the winter, non-navigational level. But, some folks paddled their kayaks through the canal way even at this level when I was there.

map canal washington D C

Map of the C & O canal

George Washington first got the idea for a canal/shipping waterway about the time of the French and Indian War. He formed the Potomac Company to make the first start at it. That was not a fully separate ditch and proved to be not the way to go. By, 1825 the C&O Company was created to provide an economic trade route between the eastern seaboard and the West.

President John Quincy Adams put the first, ground breaking shovel of dirt in July, 1828. The full canal was completed and opened to commercial traffic in 1850. Traffic peaked with 850,000 tons of goods in 1871, spread out over 500 canal boats. This was mostly coal coming to the D. C. area. Then traffic went down slowly.

C & O canal boat model

model of Canal Boat

The main competition was the B & O railroad out of Baltimore, MD.  There also was the nationwide depression of the 1870s. Then there were two major floods, one in 1877 and then in 1886. B& O bought the canal company via buying its bonded indebtedness. The flood in 1924 ended the canal way commercial operations and closed it until the Park’s system re-opened it for boating fun.

washinton d C potomac river

downstream of the falls

 

potomac river

note this birch tree

 

Lock potomac river

Visitor's Center at Great Falls Tavern and Lock

 

lock

view of open lock at winter water level

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