The Paw Paw Tunnel: A Wonder of the World

The Paw Paw Tunnel
A Wonder of the World

The Paw Paw Tunnel, at times referred to as one of the "Wonders of the World," is one of the major features of the C&O Canal. Having walked the tunnel many times in my childhood, I enjoy taking my children today. Many state that as they near the last curve, gazing at the gaping mouth of the tunnel, they feel a sense of awe and inspiration.
Construction began in 1836, endangering the builders' lives and costing tons of money - 500% more than what they first thought. It was estimated that construction of the nearly one kilometer-long tunnel (3118') would take two years. Instead, it ended up being fourteen years between the onset of construction and the opening of the tunnel to traffic.
The Paw Paw Tunnel is the largest hand-made structure of the C&O Canal. It is 24-foot high and is lined with approximately six million bricks!
During the early years, the completed tunnel was only wide enough for one boat to go through at a time. When a boat arrived at a tunnel entrance, a boy would be sent to place a lantern at the other end to signal to oncoming boats that the tunnel was already occupied. Usually this worked, however, from time to time boats would meet in the middle and one would have to back up. There is a story of one occasion when the captains of the two boats that met in the middle were particularly stubborn. For days, neither would agree to turn around. Finally the section superintendent of that part of the canal could stand it no longer. He bought all the cornstalks he could and built a roaring fire at the upwind end of the tunnel. Both boats exited quickly.
Paw Paw, the town and the tunnel, took their name from a fruit (the only temperate member of the apple custard family) that grows along nearby ridges. This unique fruit tastes much like a banana and cantaloupe together.
The Paw Paw Tunnel is a fantastic place to visit. Be sure to read up on the tunnel so you can pass enlightening tales onto your children.
The tunnel is safe, dry, and intact and is open for your sightseeing adventures.
For more information about the Paw Paw Tunnel call the Hancock Visitors Center at 301-678-5463.