Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park | LOCK AND LOCKHOUSE 6

Lock and Lockhouse 6

Lock and Lockhouse 6


Lock and Lockhouse 6 are located at Mile 5.4 on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath. There is a parking lot capable of holding sixteen cars right along the Clara Barton Parkway, but it can only be reached from the southbound lane (heading towards Georgetown). See the Locks and Lockhouses web page for an interactive location map.


Lock 6 parking area on Clara Barton Parkway

Lock 6 parking area on Clara Barton Parkway

Lock 6 on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is one of a half dozen locks that were expanded by ten feet in the upstream direction in the mid-1800s so they could accommodate longer boats. During the renovation, the traditional miter gate was replaced by a drop gate. However, in the late 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps—an organization created to put men back to work after the Great Depression—was restoring the lower end of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the lock was refitted with a miter gate.

A miter gate has two doors that meet at an angle pointing upstream. The pressure of the downstream flowing water keeps them shut naturally. These are easily identified by their long, wooden balance beams, or levers, which are used to open and close the gate doors.

Miter gate with beams on Lock 2

Miter gate with beams on Lock 2

A drop gate, on the other hand, is a single door that opens by falling in the upstream direction like a tailgate on a pick-up truck and closes by being hoisted back in place with mechanical gears. It cannot fall downstream because it rests against notches in the stone retaining walls of the canal. Drop gates are identified by the gears and pulleys next to them. If you want to see a drop gate, visit Lock 7, 9, 10, or 12. All are located farther upstream.

Drop gate hardware

Drop gate hardware

Downstream view of the C&O Canal from Lock 6

Downstream view of the C&O Canal from Lock 6

Along with the lock itself stands Lockhouse 6. 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 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 6 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 6

Lockhouse 6

Each of the seven lockhouses available for rent represents a different time period. Lockhouse 6, though built in 1829, has been outfitted with electricity, heating and air conditioning, and running water, and it is furnished as it might have been in the 1950s. The house has two bedrooms with enough beds, trundles, and sleeper-sofas for eight people. 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.

Some of the other rental houses have no modern utilities and represent lockhouses from the early 1800s. If you don’t mind spending $110 for a lack of luxury, I highly recommend staying at least one night in one of the rustic houses. I stayed in Lockhouse 22 and Lockhouse 49. The former has no utilities at all and the latter has electricity and heat only. I purposely avoided the modernized houses 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. Of course, if the weather is nice—early spring or late fall—heat and bugs are not an issue. I stayed in Lockhouse 49 in late September and the weather was perfect, so I can’t complain about a thing.

The canal around Lock 6 is very picturesque. I saw a number of turtles bathed in the neon-green algae that covered the water.

Turtles in the C&O Canal at Lock 6

Turtles in the C&O Canal at Lock 6

Algae covered canal near Lock 6

Algae covered canal near Lock 6

There is also a trail at Lock 6. There is no reference to it on the National Park Service’s website or brochures, so I was not prepared to hike it when I stopped by the lock. I have absolutely no idea where it goes or if it even stays within Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

Lock 6 Trail

Lock 6 Trail

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Last updated on April 23, 2020
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