It was supposed to open in 1836. But it opened in 1850.
It was supposed to cost $30,000. But it cost over half a million.
They built this tunnel to avoid five miles of canal construction along the turning and twisting Potomac River, right here, at the Paw Paw bends.
The work was hard, long and slow. The workers had to blast away solid rock, then haul it away. Tons of it. And the workers weren't always paid the wages that they were promised. Funding was just too low.
But finally, after 14 years and so many fits and starts, the tunnel opened, and for the next 74 years, mule-drawn boats navigated through.
You can go through, too. Be sure to feel the guard railing, where the friction of thousands of towlines rubbing against the rail has smoothed the wood. Listen for the water dripping right down through the mountain and out the weep holes; they're on the side every 20 ft. or so. But be careful - you'll need a real good flashlight because it's pitch black in there. The boatmen used a bow-light - like a big lantern - to illuminate their way.
As Otto Swain, an old boatmen remembered, "Night and day you put your light on, because it was so dark in there. If you'd see a light coming, you'd know there was a boat coming. If two got in the tunnel at the same time, it was just too bad. I heard my father tell me that one time that's what did happen. And the two of them got shotguns and stayed there and waited, and somebody had to send for the supervisor to come up there and make one pull back...But generally, one boat could see the other one in time; you could see his bow light. If there was one already in the tunnel, the other one wouldn't go; he'd pull up to the side of the canal and wait."
But you don't have to wait. Go right on through. Like all the old boatmen, and those mules, too. 3,118 feet through the Paw Paw Tunnel.
For more information on the Tunnel and surrounding area, please click here: