Notes on the Skirting Canal & Locks Below Little Falls

Reference in C&O Canal Companion: Mile 3.2 and 3.7

This detail of J.J. Abert's 1825 map shows the location of
the locks on the skirting canal around Little Falls. The "bridge at Little Falls"
is shown at upper left. The right side of the map terminates
just before the Abner Cloud House. (National Archives)

Added to Mile 3.2 in Updated Edition:

After the devastating floods of 1996, the Park Service built a sturdier (and more elegant) bridge over to the parking lot and the Abner Cloud House, one of the oldest buildings along the canal. Abner Cloud built the house in 1801 and used the basement to store grain and flour from his mill just a few hundred feet upstream, which used water from the original Patowmack Company skirting canal (see Mile 5.6).


The rubble ruins found in the channel leading from the waste weir down to "Lock Harbor" on the river are likely the remains of the lift locks for the skirting canal. The skirting canal opened in 1795 with two wooden locks, "George" and "Martha," which were replaced by three stone locks in 1817.

Added to Mile 3.7 in Updated Edition:

The double spans of this steel truss bridge are said to be "outstanding examples of 19th Century pin-connected, Whipple trapezoidal design."

Additional Notes

The Patowmack Company locks at mile 3.2:

In the Winter 2001 issue of Maryland Historical Magazine, Dan Guzy presented the most detailed and authoritative study to date of the Patowmack Company's locks at Little Falls. After reviewing sometimes contradictory references appearing in seven documents from 1789 to 1826, Guzy concludes that there were probably three original wooden locks, replaced by four stone locks that were put in operation in March 1818. He also concludes that the stone walls supporting the footbridge across the stream next to the road down to Lock Cove are probably the remains of the original locks. Some of the stone ruins just upstream of the footbridge are likely the remains of the mill build in the late 18th Century by Abner or Amos Cloud, and later operated for many years by William Edes.




Description of original skirting canal
from the "Gallatin Report" of 1808:



IV. The Potomac

The Company incorporated by the states of Maryland and Virginia, for improving the navigation of that river, has executed the following works.

1. At a distance of 12 miles above the head of the tide, which ascends about 3 miles above the city of Washington, the river is 143 feet higher than tide water. At that place designated by the name of Great falls, the boats passing through a canal one mile in length, six feet deep, and twenty five feet wide, descend 76 feet bv five locks, 100 feet long, and 12 feet wide each, and re-entering the river, follow its natural bed, eight miles and a half. Another canal of the same dimensions, and two miles and a half in length, brings them then through three locks and by a descent of 37 feet to tide water. This last fall is distinguished by the name of Little falls. The two lower locks of the Great falls, excavated out of the solid rock, have each a lift of 18 feet: the three upper locks of solid masonary are of unequal height, and have together a lift of forty feet. The three locks of the Little falls, are each one hundred feet in length and eighteen feet wide. That breadth is unnecessary, and consumes two much water, a de-


fect which will be remedied, when stone locks will be substituted to those now in use, which being Of wood, will soon be decayed.

Three other canals without locks have been opened around three distinct falls: the principal at the Shenandoe falls below Harper's ferry, and at the place where the Potomac breaks through the Blue Ridge, is one mile in length around a fall of fifteen feet. Between this and the Great falls another canal three quarters of a mile in length, is opened around the Seneca falls The third, fifty yards in length, has been cut around Houre's falls, five miles above the Shenandoe falls. Above this place, the navigation has been improved by deepening occasionally the channel, raising the water in shallow places by small dams, and opening sluices along the shore. It is believed that by multiplying the number of those low dams, by throwing the channel along the shore, and when necessary opening canals with or without locks around the principal rapids, the navigation may be improved, perhaps as high up as Cumberland, 188 miles above tide water, to such a degree as to render the river passable for boats the greater part of the year. And if this be found practicable on the Potomac, which is the most rapid of the great Atlantic rivers, the same improvements may with greater facility be effected on any of the others. It will be indispensable, in order to attain that object on the Potomac, that additional canals with locks, should be openedat the Shenandoe or Blue Ridge falls, which as has already been stated, fall 43 feet, in the distance of five miles.

2. The Shenandoe, a river nearly as large as the Potomac itself, after a course of 250 miles through the Great Limestone valley, unites its waters with those of the Potomac at Harper's ferry, just above the Blue Ridge. From Port Republic till within eight miles of the Potomac, a distance of near 200 miles, it affords a good navigation, the fall of the river being at the rate of less than two feet a mile. In the last eight miles it falls eighty feet, and was impassable before the improvements completed last year by the Potomac company. Six different canals, 20 feet wide, four feet and a half deep, and extending altogether 2400 yards, have been opened round the most difficult falls. Through those, and five stone locks, 100 feet long and 12 feet wide each, and effecting together a descent of near fifty feet, the commuilication is now opened, and will render the undertaking much more productive than heretofore. The water in all those canals and locks, as well as in those executed on the Potomac, is uniformly supplied by the river itself.

The capital originally subscribed amounted to 311,560 dollars, divided into 701 shares; of which the state of Maryland owns 220, and the state of Virginia seventy. The total amount expended, including an additional payment received from late subscribers, 38,000 dollars arising from tolls, which have been applied to the work, and a debt of about 67,000 dollars contracted by the company, amounts to 444,652 dollars. The annual tolls raised on eight thousand tons of sundry articles, valued at more than half a million of dollars, have not before the opening of the Shenandoe, exceeded 15,000 dollars; and the annual expenses and repairs are stated at 5,000 dollars.

One hundred shares of L . 145 sterling each, remain open for subscription.


  • "Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the Subject of Public Roads and Canals;
    made in Pursuance of a Resolution of Senate of March 2, 1807, Submitted April 12, 1808"
  • "The Potomac Company's Canal and Locks at Little Falls," Dan Guzy, Maryland Historical Magazine,Volume 96-4, Winter 2001, published by the Maryland Historical Society







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