Paw Paw Tunnel – Oldtown, Maryland - Atlas Obscura
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Paw Paw Tunnel

Oldtown, Maryland

Despite violent work crews and massive delays this abandoned canal tunnel was built to last into the modern day. 

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Even though it was named after a local fruit, the building of the Paw Paw Tunnel was anything but sweet. Fighting and rioting among the workers turned the simple tunnel into a violent slog that resulted in a tunnel that is abandoned and haunting to this very day. 

Work on the Paw Paw Tunnel began in 1836. The passage was created to allow boats and pack mule to bypass the handful of winding bends and horseshoes of the Potomac River. To build this shortcut, the contractor hired ethnically varied groups of immigrant workers who often clashed, both on the work site and off, leading to riots that destroyed entire saloons. More than anything the contentious workers slowed the project down. The tunnel was originally projected to be completed in 1838, but the final bricks were not placed in the arch until 1850.

At the completion of the work, the 24-foot tall tunnel was completed. The canal space was so tight that only one boat at a time could pass through, and the wooden walkway hanging over it had the same issues of space except with mules that wouldn’t be able to pass each other. The tunnel was over 3,000 feet long, and dark in its depths. To keep spirits high, workers used to whistle and sing during their passage.

The tunnel was eventually abandoned but remains to this day. Visitors who aren’t afraid of the dark can still explore its length. Hopefully getting in less fights than the workers who built it.

Know Before You Go

The space is very dark, so bring flashlights. It can also get very cold in the middle of the tunnel so bring a sweater too. The walkway is very narrow so be prepared to bump shoulders when you pass someone.

There is a lovely park area before you enter the paths to the tunnel—a great place for a picnic before or after a walk. You'll have to walk fairly far down the canal path from the park before getting to the entrance to the tunnel, so be prepared for that.