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Construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

Canal Boat along the towpath (National Park Service)

One of our contractors, Jeremy Gainey, found a random volume of the Laws of the Corporation of the City of Washington passed by the first-[sixty-eighth] Council in the stacks. The book in question is from the Twenty-Sixth Council held in 1828-1829.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly may recall that I really enjoy looking though old D.C. material.  So of course I was going to peruse the index of this volume.

Lo and behold, the first thing to jump out at me were several entries under Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O Canal), including committee of arrangement for commencement of.

This small volume (75 pages) has at least a dozen laws and resolutions dealing with the C&O Canal, covering everything from the costs of the groundbreaking ceremony to issuing stock for the Canal Company to determining the endpoints of the canal itself.

The canal was originally designed to connect the Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio River, an idea which George Washington first conceived of with the Patowmack Company, and the canal at Great Falls, Virginia.

Laws of the Corporation of the City of Washington, passed by the Twenty-Sixth Council, p. 60-61 (1829). Photo by Betty Lupinacci.

Chapter 102, pictured above, designated July 4, 1828 as the date for the groundbreaking.  President John Quincy Adams dug the first spadeful in a ceremony held at Little Falls, Maryland. An unfortunate side note for the canal – July 4, 1828 was also the date that construction began on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, a venture that would make the canal all but obsolete before construction was completed.

Chapter 104, also pictured, sets the end of the canal at the “Eastern Branch of the Potomac.” Later that year it was determined that the exact location would be “in a basin to be formed at Seventeenth street west…” (Chapter 105.)

The length and location of the canal changed greatly over the years until its completion in 1850, never making it past Cumberland, Maryland. 



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The National Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol has a number of statues of indigenous Americans—Will Rogers, Kamehameha I, Washakie, Po’pay, Sequoyah, Sakakawea, and the newest—Chief Standing Bear, just donated to the hall by Nebraska and installed in September 2019. If a legal scholar wanted to study an inspiring legal figure for Native American […]

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The Law Library of Congress, in collaboration with the U.S. Government Publishing Office, has started a large multi-year effort to digitize and make accessible volumes of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set dating back to the first volume published in 1817. The U.S. Congressional Serial Set is an official, bound collection of reports and documents of […]

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Spanish Legal Documents (15th – 19th Centuries): Briefs

The following is a guest post by Stephen Mayeaux, Legal Information Specialist in the Digital Resources Division at the Law Library of Congress, in collaboration with Dante Figueroa, Senior Legal Information Analyst at the Law Library of Congress. During this celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we bring you the latest—and by far the largest—update from our Spanish […]