Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park | LOCK AND LOCKHOUSE 49

Upstream view of Lock 49 with Lock 50 in the background

Upstream view of Lock 49 with Lock 50 in the background


Lock and Lockhouse 49 are located at Mile 108.7 on the C&O Canal towpath. There is parking at the site. See the Locks and Lockhouses web page for an interactive location map.


Lock 49 on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is one of the Four Locks located near Clear Spring, Maryland. It and Locks 50, 48, and 47 are all within a short walk of each other. In fact, all four locks can be seen from Lockhouse 49. There is a small parking area at the house, but keep in mind that this lockhouse can be rented for overnight stays, so these spots may be taken by guests. There is a larger parking lot at the end of Starliper Road that is used for the adjacent Four Locks Picnic Area and Boat Ramp.

The construction of the Four Locks allowed the C&O Canal to cut across a peninsula of land called Prather’s Neck instead of following the Potomac River, a savings of roughly 3.5 miles. Just picture the state of Florida, and instead of following the entire coast to get from Tampa to Jacksonville, you cut straight across the interior of the state.

View of the downstream end of Lock 49

View of the downstream end of Lock 49

Close-up of the stones of a lock retaining wall

Close-up of the stones of a lock retaining wall

Along with the lock itself stands Lockhouse 49. 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. All of the Four Locks were managed by one lockkeeper, but since this was above the limit of three, he had to hire a few of the local residents to help out.

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!

Many lockkeepers supplemented their incomes by selling produce, pies and other baked goods, meals, and—though highly frowned upon by the C&O Canal Company—liquor to the canal boat crews. They weren’t able to officially operate a tavern or restaurant without paying the canal company to lease the land, so all of this side business was done “under the table.” Legitimate businesses were also established at Lock 49. What looks to be a pile of rocks on the side of the lock is actually the ruins of a warehouse operated by Denton Jacobs.

Ruins of Jacobs’ warehouse at Lock 49

Ruins of Jacobs’ warehouse at Lock 49

While lockhouses once stood at nearly all locks on the Chesapeake and Ohio 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 49 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.

Though the canal shut down in 1924, many of the lockkeepers and their families remained living in the houses up until the time Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park was established in 1971, so some of the houses were modernized over time. Lockhouse 49 has electricity and heat, but no air conditioning or indoor plumbing (a portable toilet is just outside). Three of the other rental lockhouses remain just as they were when built in the 1830s and have no modern utilities at all (Lockhouses 22, 25, and 28), while three have electricity, water, and modern heating and air conditioning (Lockhouses 6, 10, and 21). Each is furnished to represent a certain time period based on its amenities. Having electricity only, Lockhouse 49 is furnished as it might have been in the 1920s.  (Prior to becoming a National Historical Park, the section of the C&O Canal between Seneca and Cumberland was designated as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Monument in 1961 by President Dwight Eisenhower. The canal had actually been owned by the U. S. Government since 1938, though the purchase was originally so that a road could be built along the route).

Lockhouse 49

Lockhouse 49

I spent one night in Lockhouse 49 in late September. The key to the house 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 reservation and bring it with you!

Lockhouse 49 has 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.

Bedroom in Lockhouse 49

Bedroom in Lockhouse 49

One of two lower level rooms in Lockhouse 49

One of two lower level rooms in Lockhouse 49

Each house is completely furnished with tables and chairs. There is an indoor stove and an outdoor grill and picnic table. Utensils, dishes, pots, and pans are provided, but you must clean up after yourself, including washing dishes. The only problem is that there is no water except at a hand-pumped spigot outside. There is a wash pan to hold water.

Lower level room used as the kitchen and dining room

Lower level room used as the kitchen and dining room

Grill and picnic table at Lockhouse 49

Grill and picnic table at Lockhouse 49

All of the lockhouses—rental or otherwise—are out in the middle of nowhere. Once the sun goes down and the hikers and bikers clear the canal towpath, you are all alone. It’s a wonderful experience, but it can be a little spooky, especially if you are by yourself like I was.

Heat and mosquitoes can be a big problem on the canal, so make the best of your stay in one of the rustic lockhouses or here at Lockhouse 49 by scheduling your visit in the spring or late fall when the temperatures are cooler and the bugs have died off. I also stayed at Lockhouse 22, but ended up there when it was hot and humid and the mosquitoes were in full swing. I wanted to experience a night just like the lockkeepers and their families spent every day of their lives, so I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, but most people probably wouldn’t want to pay good money to endure such hardships. The weather was perfect during my stay at Lockhouse 49, so I can’t complain about a thing. If you have any sense of adventure, avoid the fully modernized houses and try a rustic one. If that’s taking things too far into the past for your taste, Lockhouse 49 falls right in the middle. To make a reservation, visit the C&O Canal Trust’s Canal Quarters web page. (Be sure to read about my stay at Lockhouse 22).

Back to the Top


With a few exceptions, use of any photograph on the National Park Planner website requires a paid Royalty Free Editorial Use License or Commercial Use License. See the Photo Usage page for details.
Last updated on April 23, 2020
Share this article