Point of Rocks & the Civil War Along the C&O Canal

Point of Rocks (POR) has been an important crossroads of travel since American Indians established routes through the region. Though quieter these days, the area was bustling with commerce between the 1830s and 1930s. During the Civil War, POR found itself in the middle of a battleground, and the village today is a staging point to explore this history.

You can park at the commuter train station (3800 Clay Street) or at the National Park Service parking area by the Potomac River off of Commerce Street. Before heading out on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath, snap some photos of the elaborate train station (MARC Train parking lot on Clay Street), built in 1875 by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O)–the charming Victorian station is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Check the website for details on available services and POR events scheduled throughout the year.

During the Civil War, troops from both sides frequently crossed the River and the Towpath. Troops traded volleys across the water, skirmished in and near POR, and Confederates attacked canal boats and trains, destroyed locks, and raided supply stores.

Both the C&O Canal Company and the B&O Railroad reached Point of Rocks by 1832. From POR, head east or west along the Towpath to explore important sites associated with the railroad and canal.

West on the C&O from POR

Miles represent Towpath mileage.

Mile 48.2 Point of Rocks
Rebels burned the bridge across the Potomac here in 1862 to impede the Federals from entering Virginia.

Just west of the US Highway 15 underpass is Point of Rocks tunnel, first blasted in 1868. Both the C&O and B&O fought in court for primary access to this “point of rocks.” The C&O won but the two companies compromised, sharing the narrow passage from here to Harpers Ferry.

In 1902 the tunnel was enlarged, and brick facing on both entrances added an artistic touch.

Mile 48.9 Lockhouse 28
Experience what life might have been like for keepers of the canal locks by spending the night in restored Lockhouse. Lockhouse 28 is part of the Canal Quarters program, and each lockhouse is refurnished to represent different eras during the days of the C&O Canal. Built in 1837, Lockhouse 28 represents the canal’s early days. There’s no electricity, and you’ll have to fetch water from the nearby campsite (mile 50.3).

In 1862 during the Antietam Campaign, the bridge across Lock 28 was destroyed. Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby and his Rangers also crossed the River here on July 4, 1864, on one of their many “Calico Raids,” during which Rebels raided stores and looted canal boats.

Mile 50.9 Lockhouse 29 (Lander)
In June 1863 Confederates attacked a train near the lockhouse, following it to Point of Rocks, where they captured the engineer and 15 passengers beforeburning the train.

Lockhouse 29 is now a living history museum from the 1920s time period. You can see the inside on Saturdays during summer (11 am–2 pm). Contact the Lander Community Association at Catoctinkey@gmail.com.

Mile 51.5 Catoctin Aqueduct
The stunning aqueduct is one of 11 such bridges along the C&O canal that were once filled with water. The aqueducts carried boats over major creeks that emptied into the Potomac. Catoctin was rebuilt in 2011 using 459 of the original stones. The structure was known as the “crooked aqueduct” because boats had to make a sharp turn to enter it. Two arches collapsed in 1973, and the stones were buried until the aqueduct could be restored. Take the short trail down to the creek to a viewing area, where you can admire the artistry of the
reconstruction. Interpretive signs describe the process.

Mile 55 Brunswick
Explore the town of Brunswick, rich in railroad history, before heading back to Point of Rocks.

 

East on the C&O from POR

Miles represent towpath mileage.

Mile 48.2 Point of Rocks
Near the boat launch in POR you’ll see the western tip of Heater’s Island, a tear-drop-shaped land mass that is now a state wildlife management area. Union pickets were stationed here and on other nearby islands during the Civil War. Early Native Americans had camps here, and the island was used as a river crossing point.

Mile 44.6 Nolands Ferry
A ferry began running here in 1742, and lore has it that Thomas Jefferson crossed here on May 10, 1776, on his way from Charlottesville, VA, to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to help draft the Constitution.

In September 1862, Confederate General A.P. Hill’s troops crossed during the Antietam Campaign. Two years later, Mosby’s Raiders tried to cross, but the 8th Illinois Cavalry held them back.

Mile 43 Nolands Ferry Archaeological Site
Artifacts unearthed in the 1970s indicate the site was nearly continuously occupied from 8500 BC to AD 1800. Some of the finds include a Late Woodland period village with trash pits and burial areas ringing an open plaza. Today the archaeological components remain buried but you will find parking, a boat ramp, restrooms, and picnicking at Nolands Ferry.

Boaters may find traces of some of the best preserved fish weirs in the lower Potomac. Native Americans and colonists built the V-shaped weirs from rock to channel fish into sluices or pens, where they could be caught in net baskets, speared, or caught with hook and line.

Mile 42.6 Indian Flats Campground
Free; first come first served. Water pump in summer, fire rings, toilets, picnic tables.

Mile 42.2 Monocacy Aqueduct
Monocacy is the canal’s longest aqueduct—516 feet. The seven-arch structure was built mostly from stone quarried at nearby Sugarloaf Mountain. The stone walls by the parking lot are the remains of an old flour mill. There’s a boat ramp and picnicking.

During the 1862 Antietam Campaign, lock tender Thomas Walker persuaded Confederate General Hill from blowing up the Monocacy Aqueduct. Walker recommended that Hill drain the canal as a substitute to destroying the aqueduct by boring through the towpath bank. Hill chose instead to damaged Lock 27, and Walker was fired even though he saved surely one of the canal’s most impressive aqueducts. With support from locals, however, Walker got his job back.

Mile 41.5 Lock 27 at Spinks Ferry
After blowing a hole in the lock, General Hill burnt some canal boats then headed to Frederick to join Stonewall Jackson’s troops.

Turn around and head back to Point of Rocks.

 

Region: C&O Canal Towpath
Activity: Bicycling

Last updated: April 10, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Potomac Heritage NST Office
P. O. Box B

Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

Phone:

(304) 535-4014

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