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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near McLean in Fairfax County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Patowmack Canal

Great Falls Park

 

—National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior —

 
Patowmack Canal Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Jones, October 20, 2018
1. Patowmack Canal Marker
Inscription. George Washington had a marvelous idea—turn the Potomac River into a navigable waterway linking the East Coast with the Ohio River Valley. To do so, the Patowmack Company, which he helped form, dredged portions of the riverbed and built a series of skirting canals to bypass five falls along the Potomac River. Great Falls, where the river drops 76 feet in less than a mile, was the most difficult to bypass. Starting in 1785, work crews used black powder to blast through rugged cliffs and built five locks to raise or lower boats past the falls. The canal was completed in 1802—about two years after Washington died—and remained in service until 1830. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal bought the Patowmack charter and kept Washington's waterway dream alive until 1924.

(captions)
Matildaville served as construction headquarters and home for the canal superintendent, hired hands, indentures servants, and slaves. The small town had a gristmill, sawmill, foundry, inn, and market.

As a young surveyor and military officer, George Washington foresaw the commercial and trade potential of lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. He presided over the canal project until he became the first US President in 1789.

The Pawtomack Canal's route skirted five falls, continued on to the river's
Patowmack Canal Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Jones, October 20, 2018
2. Patowmack Canal Marker
headwaters, and then by land for 65 miles to Ohio River waters.

Follow the Pawtomack Canal trail to see the partially restored walls of Lock 1.


Steady Flow of Goods
Thousands of boats traveled through carrying flour, whiskey, tobacco, and iron downstream and cloth, hardware, firearms, and other products upstream. The trip took three to five days down to Georgetown and 10 to 12 days back to Cumberland, Maryland.

Trace the shape of this reproduced mason's mark that can be seen at the partially restored walls of Lock 1. Why did stone masons leave their mark? Masters masons were granted marks from a stonemason's guild for their technical skills in the craft. Marks were also used to track production and payment, and incidentally left a permanent impression, or signature by the mason. The red Seneca sandstone came from Maryland nine miles upstream.

Re-enactors pole a riverboat through a remnant of the Patowmack Canal. The boats, usually tapered at both ends, were up to 70 feet long and seven feet wide. Crude log rafts also were used.

The Potomac Company introduced...a technology that was subsequently used by dozens of canal companies on thousands of miles of canals.
Robert J. Kapsch, Canal History and Technology Proceedings, Volume XXI, 2002
 
Erected by National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.
 
Location. 38° 59.711′ N, 77° 15.189′ W. Marker is near McLean, Virginia, in Fairfax County. Marker can be reached from Old Carriage Road east of Old Dominion Drive (County Route 738). Touch for map. On the grounds of Great Falls Park. Marker is at or near this postal address: 9200 Old Dominion Drive, Mc Lean VA 22102, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Floods at Great Falls (within shouting distance of this marker); People and the Potomac (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); River of Change (about 300 feet away); A Globally Rare Environment (about 300 feet away); a different marker also named The Patowmack Canal (about 400 feet away); a different marker also named The Patowmack Canal (about 600 feet away); Olmsted Island (about 600 feet away in Maryland); Mather Gorge (approx. 0.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in McLean.
 
Also see . . .  Great Falls Park. National Park Service (Submitted on October 20, 2018.) 
 
Categories. Industry & CommercePoliticsWaterways & Vessels
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on October 20, 2018. This page originally submitted on October 20, 2018, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 51 times since then and 5 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on October 20, 2018, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
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