“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Cumberland in Allegany County, Maryland — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

Life on the Canal

Life on the Canal Marker image. Click for full size.
By Beverly Pfingsten, August 9, 2013
1. Life on the Canal Marker
Inscription. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal ran from Georgetown in Washington, D.C. (Mile 0) to Cumberland, MD (Mile 184.5), paralleling the Potomac River. Most of the heavy shipping originated from the western terminus at Cumberland. Boatmen carrying coal, lumber, grain and cement passed through Hancock, Williamsport, Sharpsburg, the Harpers Ferry area and Brunswick on their way to Washington. D.C. where their cargoes were unloaded. A one-way trip usually took 5 to 7 days.

The lifeblood of the canal was its people--the canal builders, boatmen, locktenders, mule drivers and families who lived and worked on the canal. Days were long and life was hard for the many people who made the canal run.

Mules powered the heavy cargo boats by walking along the towpath to "tow" the boats to and from Washington. "Packet" or passenger boats operated as well and were often pulled by horses. The canal had a series of structures for boats to pass through or over--including lift locks, a tunnel, aqueduct bridges and culverts. In addition to strong competition from the railroads, nature often threatened the canal with recurring floods of the Potomac River. A flood in the Spring of 1924 closed the canal permanently for commercial shipping.

Center Painting
"Two Sisters" by John Louis Wellington (1878-1965) Courtsey of the Maryland Historical
Boy leading a mule image. Click for full size.
By Beverly Pfingsten, August 9, 2013
2. Boy leading a mule
Statue in front of C&O Canal Visitors Center in the former Western Maryland Railroad Station.
Cumberland artist John Louis Wellington (1878-1965) traveled the canal aboard "The Cumberland," an excursion packet, spent time near the boatyards, photographed, sketched and painted numerous watercolors of the C&O Canal in its later years. Wellington captured the busy yet tranquil essence of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal--the boats, the people, the beauty.

Bottom Left Photo
Mule team and driver

Center Photo
Boat emerging from the Paw Paw Tunnel

Left Photo
Travelers aboard an excursion packet ca. 1910
Marker series. This marker is included in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal marker series.
Location. 39° 38.958′ N, 78° 45.795′ W. Marker is in Cumberland, Maryland, in Allegany County. Marker is on W. Harrison Street, on the right when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Cumberland MD 21502, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Boat Building at the Cumberland Basin (here, next to this marker); The National Road (here, next to this marker); Cumberland Terminus: Yesterday and Today (a few steps from this marker); Civil War in Allegany County (a few steps from this marker); Gettysburg Campaign (a few steps from this marker); Western Maryland Railway Station (within shouting distance of this marker); George Washington at Willís Creek (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Headquarters of George Washington (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Cumberland.
Categories. Waterways & Vessels
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on August 9, 2013, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland. This page has been viewed 460 times since then and 32 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on August 9, 2013, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland.
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