Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park | LOCK AND LOCKHOUSE 22

Downstream view of Lock and Lockhouse 22

Downstream view of Lock and Lockhouse 22


Lock and Lockhouse 22 are located at Mile 19.6 on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath. There are two parking areas. The first you come to is for a canoe launch. To reach the lock and lockhouse, continue to the end of Pennyfield Lock Road where it dead ends into a second parking lot. You have a two-minute walk to the house. See the Locks and Lockhouses web page for an interactive location map.


Lock 22 on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is also known as Pennyfield’s Lock, named for the last lockkeeper to work here before the canal shut down in 1924. The lock has all of its gate hardware, which is common on the locks downstream from Lock 23. Most lock gates upstream of Lock 23 are missing.

Downstream view of Lock 22

Downstream view of Lock 22

The canoe launch at the first parking lot is on Muddy Branch. This is a small creek that flows into the Potomac River by passing under the C&O Canal through a stone culvert. If the water is high, you may have to lie flat in your boat to get through. From the launch point to the Potomac is only a hundred yards. You could also get your boat into the canal by physically carrying it to the towpath. The canal is open for paddling from Lock 23 all the way to Georgetown. See the Paddling web page here on National Park Planner for details.

Along with the lock itself stands Lockhouse 22. A lockhouse is the residence of the man who was hired to operate the lock. In addition to a yearly salary, he and his family—almost all lockkeepers were family men—lived in the company provided lockhouse and had use of an acre of land for farming. Those who tended multiple locks got extra money per lock, up to two. The locks had to be very close together for the C&O Canal Company to assign multiple locks to one person.

Operating the lock was a year-round, 24-hour-a-day job. When a canal boat approached, the captain would blow a whistle to notify the lockkeeper. If it were nighttime, somebody had to wake up and go to work. Of course that’s the benefit of being a family man—your kids had to get up for the late night and early morning arrivals!

While such houses once stood at nearly all locks on the C&O Canal, very few survive today. Of those that do remain, most are not open to the public, at least not on any regularly scheduled basis. This makes Lockhouse 22 even more special because it can be rented for overnight stays by those wanting an authentic canal and lockhouse experience. The C&O Canal Trust maintains seven such houses within the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. See the Lockhouse Rentals web page here on National Park Planner for more information.

Lockhouse 22 (aka Pennyfield Lockhouse)

Lockhouse 22 (aka Pennyfield Lockhouse)

Lockhouse 22 is just as it was when it was built back in the 1830s. While some of the other rental houses have been outfitted with modern utilities, staying here is just like camping, but in a house. There is no electricity, no heat or air conditioning, and no running water (a portable toilet is located outside). Three of the rental houses are fully modernized, but I purposely avoided them because I wanted to experience a night close to how those living on the canal back in the 1800s spent every night of their lives. I stayed in Lockhouse 22 on a hot and miserable day and had to deal with mosquitoes, and while I can’t imagine many people wanting to pay good money to put up with such hardships, spending one night to learn what people of the past had to deal with was worth every penny I spent, every drop of sweat I spilled, and every mosquito bite I endured. After just one night I knew how difficult life was back before electricity and air conditioning.

I don’t want to scare anyone off from renting the house, but you can avoid such troubles by staying in the early spring or later in the fall when the weather is much cooler. I stayed in Lockhouse 49, which has electricity and heat only, in late September when the weather was nice, and I have nothing to complain about. But ultimately, if you want a luxurious vacation, get a hotel. If you want to learn something, stay in one of the rustic lockhouses for a night. If you want to stay in a lockhouse but want some comforts, choose Lockhouse 6, Lockhouse 10, or Lockhouse 21. All have modern conveniences, including showers.

If there is one thing I would change about the arrangements at Lockhouse 22, it is that renters should be able to drop off their gear at the house before parking. The parking lot is a two-minute walk away—it seems like an hour when carrying your supplies—but there is a vehicle driveway that leads up to the house that is unfortunately blocked by a locked gate. I was hoping the key to the house would unlock it, but it did not. If you have a cart, bring it with you. The key, by the way, is obtained from a lock box at the front door, the same type used by real estate agents to get into an empty house that they are selling. When you make a reservation you are emailed the lock box code. Don’t forget to print this and bring it with you!

All of the houses are furnished according to a particular time period, and Lockhouse 22 is as it might have been around 1840. There are two bedrooms with two twin beds and two trundle beds—beds that slide out from under the main bed—enough for eight people overall. Keep in mind that no linens or pillows are provided other than comforters and mattress pads. I suggest bringing a sleeping bag if you have one. The bed I slept in was as comfortable as can be expected from an 1840s-style bed. One is actually a rope bed, meaning that instead of having wooden planks or a box spring supporting the mattress, the mattress is supported by ropes stretched across the bed frame.

Rope bed and trundle at the Pennyfield Lockhouse

Rope bed and trundle at the Pennyfield Lockhouse

Bedroom at the Pennyfield Lockhouse

Bedroom at the Pennyfield Lockhouse

Cooking is done outdoors on a grill, and you can eat outside at the picnic table or inside on the dining room table. Dishes, pots, and pans are provided, but you must clean up after yourself. The only problem is that there is no water except at a spigot three miles down the towpath, so if you plan on cooking, bring many extra gallons of water for washing dishes. There is a wash pan to hold water.

Because there is no electricity you do not want to arrive after dark…like I did. It’s pitch black inside, so I didn’t even know what the interior looked like until the next day. Yes, I had a flashlight, but it’s hard to get your bearings when all you can see is what is illuminated by a narrow beam of light. You’ll want to bring at least three LED lanterns or other battery powered lanterns. Open flames of any type, including candles, are not allowed inside. If you are staying multiple nights you’ll need plenty of batteries because once your lights go out you can’t see a thing. Even during the day you must open all of the window shutters to get light inside, and if it’s overcast you may still need your lanterns during the daytime. But that’s what the lockkeeper and his family had to deal with every day.

About the only way to cool off the house is to open the windows, which of course lets in the mosquitoes. To remedy the situation, screens have been provided, but not screens like they have on windows today. What you get is a separate screen in a wooden frame that is about a foot tall and can be expanded width-wise to fit the window. Lift up the window and slip the screen into the gap. The weight of the window holds it in place. The only problem is that if you are alone, it is tough to raise the window and hold it open with one hand while trying to manipulate the screen into place with the other. It’s really a two-person job.

While you are installing the screens, the mosquitoes are flying in every second the window is open. Once you get the screens in place you must spend the next half hour killing them, hoping you get all of them before going to bed. You’ll see plenty of squished mosquitoes on the ceiling, so everybody seems to have the same problem. If it had been cooler, or if there had been a breeze, there wouldn’t have been any mosquitoes. Also, you will probably find a lot of spiders in the house holed up in various corners. I wouldn’t kill them because they catch the mosquitoes. Don’t worry, those spiders are content in their webs and they aren’t going to come and get you.

All of the lockhouses on the C&O Canal—rental or otherwise—are out in the middle of nowhere. Once the sun goes down and the hikers and bikers clear the towpath, you are all by yourself. It’s a wonderful experience, but it can be a little spooky, especially if you are alone. I could have sworn that I saw a ghost hanging around the front of the house.

Ghost at the front door of the Pennyfield Lockhouse

Ghost at the front door of the Pennyfield Lockhouse

I did not arrive until after dark (big mistake), so it wasn’t until the next morning that I saw the interior. Unfortunately, I was packing up and leaving first thing so I never got to enjoy the house. I did take a few photos before I left.

Dining table

Dining table

Table with books and other information about the C&O Canal National Historical Park

Table with books and other information about the C&O Canal National Historical Park

I loved my stay at Lockhouse 22 and highly recommend it to those who want a little adventure. It would be a perfect place for a family or a group of friends to spend the night, as long as there are no wimps in the group. To make a reservation, see the C&O Canal Trust’s Canal Quarters web page.


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Last updated on April 23, 2020
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