15501. Paw Paw Tunnel

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:

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