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Paw Paw Tunnel

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1836–1850, Ellwood Morris and C.B. Fisk. Milepost 155 of Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

One of the engineering feats of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was the 3,118-foot-long Paw Paw Tunnel built to avoid a six-mile stretch of arduous terrain. Ellwood Morris, principal design engineer, and C. B. Fisk, chief engineer, designed the structure. Construction of the tunnel involved excavating from the north and south portals, as well as drilling four vertical, eight-foot-diameter shafts from above for ventilation and removal of spoils. On March 15, 1836, the contract for the Paw Paw Tunnel was let to Lee Montgomery and work began shortly thereafter. By late 1839, the cut to the lower entrance had been excavated and two-thirds of the tunnel had been dug. Montgomery had also begun producing bricks for the tunnel lining, probably near the site. Construction ceased in 1841 and resumed again with new contractors in November 1848.

Paw Paw Tunnel has a twenty-four-foot-wide opening and is comprised of a brick-lined barrel arch with a twelve-foot radius. A four-foot-wide brick towpath runs along one side of the canal bed. The portals are framed by simplified classical entablatures with thick pilasters executed in coursed ashlar limestone. This impressive passageway is still used by bicyclists riding on the towpath.


Historic American Buildings Survey. “Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, Paw-Paw Tunnel.” HABS No. MD-810, Historic American Buildings Survey, 1960. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Writing Credits

Justine Christianson
Lisa P. Davidson
Catherine C. Lavoie



  • 1836


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Justine Christianson, "Paw Paw Tunnel", [Oldtown, Maryland], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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