A scarce Chesapeake and Ohio Canal map

Lieut. [John] Farley (surveyor) / William and D.R. Harrison (engravers), MAP of the country between WASHINGTON & PITTSBURG referring [sic] to the contemplated CHESAPEAKE & OHIO CANAL and its GENERAL ROUTE AND PROFILE. OCTOBER 1826. [Washington, D.C.], 1826.
Engraving and etching, 17”h x 25 3/8”w plus margins, uncolored.

A scarce, separately issued map showing the route of the proposed Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

After the Revolutionary War, George Washington was the chief advocate of using waterways to connect the Eastern Seaboard to the Great Lakes and Ohio River. To this end he founded the Potowmack Company in 1785, in order to improve the navigability of the Potomac River. The Company built a number of skirting canals around the major falls including the Patowmack Canal in Virginia. When completed, it allowed boats and rafts to float downstream towards Georgetown, though absent a lock system the upstream journey was far more challenging.

With the construction of the Erie Canal (1817-1825), business interests in the mid-Atlantic began pushing for a transportation link to developing areas west of the Appalachians. The earliest plans for a canal linking the Ohio and the Chesapeake were drawn up as early as 1820, the holdings of the Patowmack Company were ceded to the Chesapeake & Ohio Company in 1824, and in October 1826 an engineering study was completed. Construction began on July 4, 1828, overseen by Benjamin Wright, formerly Chief Engineer of the Erie Canal.

Offered here is a separately-issued map of the canal’s prospective route, drawn by U.S. Artillery Lieutenant John Farley to accompany the October 23, 1826 Report of the Board of Internal Improvement on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.[1] After evaluating a number of alternatives for the mountainous stretch between Cumberland and the Casselman River (a tributary of the Youghiogheny), the report recommended a route in three sections: the Eastern Section along the Potomac from Georgetown to Cumberland, the Middle section from Cumberland along Wills Creek to the confluence of the Casselman and Youghiogheny Rivers, and the Western Section from thence to Pittsburgh. According to the report, the Wills Creek-Casselman route was to be preferred to a somewhat more southerly route via Deep Creek:

“The Castleman’s route will therefore be less expensive than the Deep Creek route; its supply of water nearly the same; its location more easy; its summit-level less liable to be encumbered at the ends; and on account of less lockage and shorter length, it will produce a saving in time of 22 hours.” (Report, p. 18)

The map uses a variety of dotted and dashed lines to indicate both the preferred route and the alternatives between Cumberland and the Casselman River. Much additional information is provided by profile views of the route at top and bottom, indicating elevation changes and numbers of locks required for each stage. These highlight the particular difficulty of the 70-mile Middle Section, which entailed no fewer than 246 locks and a 4-mile tunnel to negotiate 1961 feet of elevation change and was projected to cost more than $10 million.

Despite the grandiose vision and backing of important southern interests (including Washington’s heirs), the progress of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal lagged. Ultimately only the Eastern Section to Cumberland was completed, and that not until 1850. The Canal could never compete successfully with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, with which it shared much of the right of way along the Potomac, and it quickly slipped into a secondary role and was abandoned after a devastating flood in 1924.

While OCLC records a number of holdings in American institutions, the map is scarce on the market. This firm has handled two other impressions in the past 15 years, and according to Antique Map Price Record another was offered by High Ridge Books in 1996.

Phillips, Maps of America, p. 1012. OCLC #227480073 and 32689905, giving 12 examples held in American libraries (May 2018). Not in Papenfuse & Coale, Historical Atlas of Maryland.

[1] Some sources, Phillips’ List of Maps among them, seem to suggest that the map was bound in to the Oct. 23, 1826 Report, which was submitted to Congress in December of that year. Indeed the list of contents on p. 10 of the Report includes “No. 1. General Map of the Country between Washington and Pittsburg.” However our map bears a note “Reduced from the General Map annexed to the Report upon the Contemplated Canal & drawn by Lieut. Farley,” suggesting that our map and the “General Map” are distinct. Further, I find no examples of our map bearing the signs of having been issued in a government document.


Minor soiling and discoloration, centerfold and two diagonal creases flattened, some reinforcement on verso, and some expert repairs and restorations to margins.