No other town on the canal prospered as much from the coal trade as the Queen City - Cumberland. Here in Cumberland the shipyards employed scores of craftsmen who built and repaired coal boats. Here in Cumberland the boats were loaded with rich, soft coal, mined just west of here, and destined for eastern ports like Williamsport and Georgetown,
Here in Cumberland many boatmen passed their winter months while the canal was shut down due to repair work or ice.
In 1870,almost one million tons of coal, lumber, cement and other freight were shipped on the C&O Canal.
But by the middle of that decade, the B&O Railroad had begun to chip away at the canal's coal trade. You see, you could ship more coal more swiftly on the railroad than you could on the canal. It would take under a day for a train to travel to Washington or Baltimore. A trip on the canal boat took seven days. For that long haul, eventually, the trains were just more efficient.
Newspaper articles from 1877 in the Cumberland Alleghenian and Times stated their concerns:
"The canal is the only surety for...prosperity. The principle income of this region is from the coal trade. We have hundreds in Cumberland dependent on coal shipments by canal where Baltimore has ten by rail. Five hundred canal captains have their all invested in their boats, and 2,000 men are subject to the captains. Our boat builders have tens of thousands dependent upon employment of these men. Our businessmen derive half their profits from the...canal, and our landlords would get nothing for their houses if we lose our canal trade." But over the years, into the 1880's, trade on the canal did decline, mostly due to competition from the railroad.
But Cumberland did survive through diversification. the town prospered with businesses such as iron foundries and machine shops, steel mills and tanneries, flour and saw mills and yes, even the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
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