You are here

Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal

-A A +A
1855–1859, 1873, 1932, 1973. From the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River at Great Bridge to the North Landing River at the Chesapeake–Virginia Beach city limits. Canal and locks visible from Great Bridge Locks Park, west end of Locks Rd.

Built in competition with the Dismal Swamp Canal (see next entry), the 8-mile long, 12-foot deep, 90-foot wide Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal connects the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River to the North Landing River in Virginia and ultimately to Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. The canal is an important part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AIW). The canal, completed in 1859 by a private company, runs west to east. Since the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal is wider and deeper than the Dismal Swamp Canal, it carries almost all commercial traffic along the AIW as well as recreational craft that are too large for the other canal. A survey for the canal was authorized by the Virginia legislature in 1772, and within two years Isaac Hildrith had drawn up plans for a canal, lock, and drawbridge; but it was not until 1850 and after more surveys that construction began with John Lathrop as the chief engineer. At the time of its completion in 1859, the Great Lock, measuring 220 feet long and 40 feet wide, was the largest lock on the Atlantic coast, superseded only by the lock between Lake Superior and Lake Huron in Sault Sainte Marie. The original walls of the lock were constructed of Maryland granite shipped to the site via the Chesapeake Bay. Union forces used the canal during the war. Since 1912, it has been operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Because the Elizabeth River is subject to tidal change from the Chesapeake Bay, a 600-foot-long, 75-foot-wide tidal guard located at Great Bridge in Chesapeake was constructed in 1932.

Writing Credits

Richard Guy Wilson et al.


What's Nearby


Richard Guy Wilson et al., "Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal", [Chesapeake, Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Virginia: Tidewater and Piedmont, Richard Guy Wilson and contributors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, 460-462.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.

, ,