The Paw Paw Tunnel stands as a monument to the ability and daring of 19th century canal builders. By building the mile-long cut through the mountain, including the 3,118-foot tunnel, the canal avoided six miles of river bends and steep, rocky cliffs.
Methodist minister and contractor Lee Montgomery began construction in 1836, with estimates of completion in two years. Labor shortages, financial difficulties, underestimating the cost of the work, and a maze of lawsuits eventually forced Montgomery into bankruptcy. Work on the tunnel stopped. In 1850 the tunnel was finally completed, opening the canal from Georgetown to Cumberland.
Using what we would consider primitive tools, laborers dug through 3,118 feet of unstable shale. Picks and shovels, wheelbarrows, black powder, mule power, and backbreaking labor built the tunnel.
Irish laborers, British and German stonemasons, and a few other nationalities came together to build the canal and tunnel. Occasionally there were clashes between these diverse groups.