Fw: October 10 in transportation history: C&O Canal


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Subject: October 10 in transportation history: C&O Canal

I really like the station at Point of Rocks.

Sent: Monday, October 11, 2021




When the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was completed on this date in 1850, it extended 184.5 miles from Washington DC to Cumberland MD.  It used 74 locks to gain 605 feet in elevation starting from tidewater at Georgetown.


An act of Congress chartered the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company in March 1825.  President John Quincy Adams broke ground for the canal at Little Falls MD on July 4, 1828—the same date as groundbreaking for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.



                       C&O Canal at Seneca MD                                                                    Library of Congress


B&O and C&O both followed the Potomac River—sometimes fighting when the valley wasn’t wide enough for both.  One such area of contention was Point of Rocks MD, where the river cuts through the Catoctin Range.  B&O had purchased land, but C&O argued that its 1825 charter granted it right-of-way.  After a six-year court battle, B&O tunneled through the mountain.



                  B&O’s Point of Rocks tunnel (south portal)                Library of Congress



                  B&O’s Point of Rocks depot (built 1873) still stands and is served by MARC commuter trains.


After the canal went out of business, B&O built a second track roughly where the canal had been.




The Baltimore & Ohio reached Cumberland in 1842, eight miles before the canal did.  By 1850, it was obvious that westward expansion across the Alleghenies would be prohibitively expensive, so the planned Middle Section (Cumberland—Garrett PA) and Western Section (Garrett—Pittsburgh) were never built.


The C&O Canal sustained serious flood damage in 1889, 1924 and 1938.  After 1924 it was essentially useless except for a section around Georgetown.  B&O had  been the majority stockholder since 1903, but did little to repair damage.


The United States government purchased the canal right-of-way in 1938.  It is now a National Historic Park.