Left panel:Georgetown became a port city soon after its 1751 founding. Located on the Potomac River, it was the logical choice for the canal's terminus. Canal activity further spurred Georgetown's economic growth. By the late 1800s, it was a bustling industrial port, with loads of cargo transferring between ocean-going ships, smaller boats, and wagons. On the canal, mule-drawn coal boats sidled up alongside Georgetown's warehouses to unload their freight. After their week-long journey down the 184.5 mile canal, canal families looked forward to the sights and sounds of Georgetown.
The canal was initially envisioned by its supporters as a trade route between east and west. However, by the time the canal reached Cumberland, plans to extend it to the Ohio River at Pittsburgh had been abandoned for financial reasons.
The canal was most active and profitable between 1865 and 1880. Over five hundred boats carried nearly one million tons of cargo annually between Cumberland and Georgetown. More than 90% of the boats arrived in Georgetown filled with coal. The canal stretches 184.5 miles between Georgetown and Cumberland. Rising 605 feet in elevation along the journey, the canal averaged 60 feet across, six feet deep, and included seven dams, 11 aqueducts, and 74 lift locks. Middle
panel:The Canal through GeorgetownMap of the canal and towpathCanal Boat Tour
The canal boat tour takes about an hour. On the tour, you will travel through a lock and learn more about the canal, its history, and the people who made a living delivering cargo between Cumberland and Georgetown.
Georgetown grew to accommodate the canal's business. New wharves supported the distribution of coal, stone, and timber. Flour, paper, and cotton milling became successful industries in the town, using the canal as a new source of water power.
The Georgetown section of the canal includes four locks. As boats approached Georgetown and lined up to unload cargo, they created traffic jams on the canal. Boat crews sometimes waited days to unload before they could begin the return trip. Canal families eagerly anticipated their arrival in Georgetown. After a week on the boat, traveling through rural country and small towns, parents would allow their children to go up to the city's streets to buy candy, ice cream or see a movie.