Paw Paw Tunnel / C&O Canal

a black and white image of the Paw Paw TunnelThe Paw Paw Tunnel is located a mile north of town; and it’s actually in Maryland.

In 1836, the C&O Canal began construction on the Paw Paw Tunnel. It was originally expected to take about 2 years and cost $33,500; but because of the extreme difficulty of the work and fights amongst the workers, it took them 14 years using primitive hand tools and black powder charges to carve the 3118-foot tunnel through the mountain of stratified shale of what is known as Sorrell Ridge.

The resulting tunnel eliminated 6 miles of river bends (known as the Paw Paw Bends) and steep mountainous terrain. The Paw Paw Tunnel was proclaimed by American promoters as a “Wonder of the World”.

The tunnel stands 24 feet high and is the largest manmade structure on the C&O Canal. It is lined with close to 6 Million bricks and is almost 6/10 of a mile long!

The Paw Paw Tunnel is located at milepost 155.2 of the C&O Canal.

Discontent among the workers

One of the biggest delays in the construction of the tunnel was fighting and rioting between the workers. Lee Montgomery, a Methodist minister and contractor led Irish and English workers who attacked each other and German workers at a work camp downstream. 

Haunted Trails

Over the years, locals as well as visitors have claimed to have seen many a daunting figure or some other unexplained, possibly paranormal happenings while visiting the Paw Paw Tunnel. One of the most famous stories, however, is about the lockkeeper of lock 64 2/3.

During the construction of the tunnel there was much frustration that led to quarrels and even some riots. One night, a particularly rowdy bunch of workers ended up burning down the lockhouse at mile 64 2/3. The next morning, the charred remains of the poor lockkeeper were found inside. It is said his spirit still roams throughout the tunnel.

There have even been some paranormal investigators who have visited and report hearing and recording “unembodied whispers” and “unexplained shadows”.

Traffic Congestion

It sounds funny. But once the tunnel was open for boat traffic, there was often backups in the tunnel. Because of the narrowness inside of the tunnel, it was impossible for boats to pass by each other. Nor could they turn around. They began lighting a red lantern on the stern and a white lantern on the bow so that other boats would know when someone was coming or going. It became understood that boats going downstream would yield and back out of the tunnel.

Once, though, neither boat would give the right of way. The stand-off lasted for several days until other workers upstream started a fire to smoke them out!

The Paw Paw Tunnel, with its fascinating history, isn’t the only attraction you can find at this particular part of the Canal, though.

Paw Paw Tunnel Hill Trail

While you’re there, another great thing to check out is “Tunnel Hill Trail” which goes up and over the tunnel itself. It is actually part of the access road workers would use to housing and work camps near the top of the mountain.

While there are beautiful sights to see, be forewarned it is a very strenuous and steep two mile trek with narrow trails and loose rock.

The White House

No…Not THE “White House”. But there is a white building standing near the campground that used to be occupied by the Superintendent of this section of the canal. It isn’t open for tours but is still an interesting structure to check out from the outside.

Camping near Paw Paw, WV at the C&O Canal

The campground, just a short distance from the tunnel, boasts 10 single campsites. Each campsite features a picnic table, grill and fire ring. There are also accessible portable toilets as well as hand pumps for fresh water. Campsites are tent-only and there are no electric hookups. There is fishing access but it will require a MD fishing permit.

You can visit the National Park Service’s website to book your campsite in advance.

Paw Paw Tunnel Visit Paw Paw Wv
C&O Canal Tunnel