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White visitor center building

C&O Canal Visitor Center at Great Falls

Preserving America's early transportation history, the C&O Canal began as a dream of passage to Western wealth. Operating for nearly 100 years the canal was a lifeline for communities along the Potomac River as coal, lumber and agricultural products floated down the waterway to market. Today it endures as a pathway for discovering historical, natural and recreational treasures.

 

The Great Falls of the Potomac have drawn people to the river's shore for centuries. To Native Americans it was a gathering place, to George Washington it was an impediment to navigation, to thousands of visitors every year it is an awe-inspiring site. Tourists have been drawn to the Great Falls of the Potomac long before there was a canal. The Great Falls Tavern carries on a long tradition of hospitality for visitors to the C&O Canal. Soon after the canal's ground breaking in 1828 construction began on the original lockhouse. In response to travelers' requests for shelter and a meal, the locktender here at Great Falls, W.W. Fenlon, asked the Canal Company to build the three-story north wing for a hotel. Proposing himself as innkeeper but adding, "Mrs. Felon is better calculated for Land Ladie," he wrote. The hotel opened for business in 1831. The entrance door invited guests into a large, windowed room with fireplaces and a bar. As the inn's first proprietor Mr. Fenlon presided over lively entertainment like fishing parties, dances and social events in the "ballroom," in addition to good dinners and a place to sleep. A community of over 100 people grew nearby with shops and a post office. The National Park Service offers interpretive programs year round and boat rides in the spring, summer and early fall.   Please call the visitor center for information at 301-767-3714.

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Image Credit: Kelsey Everett / Chesapeake Conservancy
Last updated: April 22, 2019
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