I can’t say that I’ve ever really understood the lay of the land around the Paw Paw Tunnel. How can it be that the downstream end of the tunnel is the north portal? I don’t get it, but that’s only part of what makes the tunnel an interesting place.
At 3118′ in length, the tunnel is a dark and spooky place. The openings are 24′ high, but from one end to the other, they look like mere pinholes. What lies in between is so dark–without a flashlight–that it’s easy to trip over bumps or step into large pools of water.
Considering all of the water that drips from the top of the tunnel, it’s amazing that approximately six million bricks stay in place on the walls and ceiling. That’s a tall tribute to both the tunnel builders and the people who maintain it.
The Paw Paw Tunnel was a work in progress from 1836-50. Workers lived along the present Tunnel Hill Trail in tents and small wooden houses, not far from the Tunnel Hollow area of the towpath. Progress was halted or slowed by a number of factors, including a lack of funds, cholera outbreaks, and labor disputes.
In the years it took to build the tunnel, it can be argued that the railroad made the C&O Canal a dinosaur before its time, and I’m sure that the laborers and engineers who built the canal had no idea that its greatest success would be as historical park and recreational area 120 years (and beyond!) after the completion of the tunnel.