Great Falls and the Patowmack Canal

Great Falls Travel Blog

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Great Falls

It is a long weekend, because of the observance of Independence Day (4th of July). I decided to spend this long weekend near the nation's capital, Washington DC. I took a different route than I did last year driving via New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. Before going into the city I would first visit yet another state, Virginia, where I would look at Great Falls Park.

Great Falls Park is located on the west bank of the Potomac River, in a beautiful stony and woody area. At this place the Potomac River has to descent some hills and a series of wild flowing waterfalls is the result. The water flows with such a force and irregular turbulence that the streams are extremely dangerous. A person can be trapped in the water circulation and be pushed under water for hours.

The rocky shores of the river are shaped by the river

The falls are not only dangerous, they were also an obstacle for commercial shipping on the river. In 1784 the Patowmack Company was founded by nobody less than George Washington himself, to construct a series of canals in the river. The canals were meant to bypass shallow parts as well as the raging waterfalls of Great Falls. Construction started one year later and was completed in 1802. The canal served for 26 years and many flatboats carrying cargo like timber, ores, fur, tobacco, whiskey, flour, and corn passed through the locks of the canal. With the canal came also the village of Mathildaville. It boomed with the canal workers. It even had an inn. 

In 1828 the canal and its rights were bought by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company.

A better preserved part of the Patowmack Canal
This company built a more modern canal at the other side of the Potomac River. As a result the Patowmack Canal decayed, as well as Mathildaville.

The lands next to the falls and along the former Patowmack Canal are now managed by the National Parks Service. The NPS constructed nice viewing platforms that offer great views on the impressive falls and the Potomac River. The Canal has, at many places, almost completely disappeared. Especially around the falls. A small ramp in the pick nick meadow and some crumbling walls remain. Deeper into the woods the old walls of the locks are more clearly visible. The last, and steepest, part of the canal was completely carved out in the rocks. Resulting in a Hell Fire Pass like corridor. The village of Mathildaville has also completely disappeared. The only remains are a few crumbling walls of the Canal Superintendent's house.

I visited all of it, the views on the falls, the remainder of the canal, the locks, the carved exit, the trails in the woods and the ruins of Mathildaville. A 9-km hike. And I was amazed and impressed.

More pictures below!

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Great Falls
Great Falls
The rocky shores of the river are …
The rocky shores of the river are…
A better preserved part of the Pat…
A better preserved part of the Pa…
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Great Falls
Potomac Rivers level can rise ext…
Potomac River's level can rise ex…
The rocky shores of the river are …
The rocky shores of the river are…
The rocky shores of the river are …
The rocky shores of the river are…
The rocky shores of the river are …
The rocky shores of the river are…
The rocky shores of the river are …
The rocky shores of the river are…
The last section of the Patowmack …
The last section of the Patowmack…
The east shore (in Maryland)
The east shore (in Maryland)
The remains of the house of the Ca…
The remains of the house of the C…
The house of the Canals Superinte…
The house of the Canal's Superint…
Anothger better preserved track of…
Anothger better preserved track o…
Potomac River, upstream from the G…
Potomac River, upstream from the …
Dickeys Inn in Mathildaville arou…
Dickey's Inn in Mathildaville aro…
Great Falls
photo by: b93sp