12301. The Great Tonoloway

Can a structure be a cultural symbol or a work of art? The Tonoloway aqueduct is a tangible link to the life and times of the canal era. It is easy to imagine it full of water, mules pulling a canal boat across it. Standing on the aqueduct you can feel the history, imagining you are steering a canal boat or riding and driving the mules.

Built of limestone from a local quarry, the Tonoloway Creek aqueduct – a single arch aqueduct spanning 110 feet is considered the seventh “work of art” on the C&O Canal. But time has not been kind to the Tonoloway Creek aqueduct. Today it is braced by steel and the sides have collapsed – leaving a wide open view of the Tonoloway Creek and the Potomac River.

Constructed between 1835 and 1839, at a cost of $48,000, the aqueduct remains as a

testament to human ingenuity in overcoming natural obstacles with a drive for human

progress. The large cut masonry squares and the original iron railings remain as the constructed stone juts out of the dark gray jagged limestone rock – a growth of manmade ingenuity out of natural beauty. On April 24, 1839, an article in the Washington National Intelligencer announced that “it had been a great pleasure to learn that the water had been admitted into the 27 miles of this canal, lately finished and that the boats are now navigating

that, as well as the older portions of the line.” That signaled the completion of 136 miles of the canal.

If you go about one mile upstream you will find yourself in the heart of the charming little town

of Hancock. Immediately downstream from the aqueduct are Locks 52 and 51 and the Hancock Visitor Center also known as the Bowles House; Can you guess why lock 52 wasn’t combined with the aqueduct into one structure as seen at Seneca (lock 24)? We aren’t quite sure either.

If you are standing on top, from one side of the aqueduct you will see the Tonoloway entering the Potomac. On the other side you might notice a bridge – this was part of the Western Maryland Railroad, which paralleled and crisscrossed the canal in this district. One of the biggest competitors to the B&O Railroad in the west (which is now on the West Virginia side across the river), the Western Maryland Railroad was constructed in 1905.

This aqueduct, described in the stockholders report of 1839 as a “fine specimen of masonry,” has withstood heavy flooding and came through the Civil War unscathed, unlike many of the other “works of art” in the park Today what you see is a result of the work of canal masonry workers and park staff who have worked to preserve this reminder of the human progress and effort in this "race to the west."