The Paw Paw Tunnel, at times referred to as one of the "Wonders of the World," is one of the major features of the canal. It was estimated that construction of the nearly one kilometer-long tunnel (3118') would take two years. Instead, it ended up being fourteen years between the onset of construction and the opening of the tunnel to traffic.
Some of the problems faced by the builders of the tunnel were ethnic violence which broke out among the Irish, English and Dutch workers, financial woes, and a general underestimation of the difficulty of the job.
The completed tunnel was only wide enough for one boat to go through at a time. When a boat arrived at a tunnel entrance, a boy would be sent to place a lantern at the other end to signal to oncoming boats that the tunnel was already occupied. Usually this sufficed. However, from time to time boats would meet in the middle and one would have to retreat. On one memorable occasion, the captains of the two boats which met in the middle were particularly stubborn. For days, neither would agree to turn around. Finally the section superintendent of that part of the canal could stand it no longer. He bought all the cornstalks he could and built a roaring fire at the upwind end of the tunnel. Both boats exited very quickly.
There's even a song with the name "Paw Paw Tunnel" by a Richmond group called Animal Farm. You can even listen to the whole song if you have RealAudio. Well, you used to be able to...as so often with the web, the file seems to have disappeared.)
Thanks to Rick Page for the photo.