The Feds Take Control of the Dismal Swamp Canal

Dismal Swamp Canal

On March 30, 1929, the federal government acquired the Dismal Swamp Canal for $500,000.

Originally authorized by the General Assembly in 1790, a private company which used slave labor was hired to construct the canal. Work began in 1793, and though the canal was finished by 1805, only small boats could traverse its course.

Between 1839 and the beginning of the Civil War, the canal was widened and deepened. A system of locks were built so that ships could be raised or lowered in the waterway.  The locks were improved with masonry, enabling larger boats to pass through. Between 1896 and 1899, the masonry locks were replaced with timber ones. During the Civil War, the canal fell into disrepair but it reopened in 1899.

Today, the canal runs 19 miles long, 60 feet wide and nine feet deep. Supervised by the Army Corps of Engineers, it is part of the Intracoastal Waterway that stretches along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

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