History of the Greenway
Official trail opening on Oct. 4, 1997. Pictured cutting the ribbon are
Bill Larson (left), Superintendent
Rick Barton (middle), and Milt Kaufman (right)
The Trail History
The Seneca Creek Greenway Trail
was originally conceived in 1994 by Milt Kaufman, a noted international
environmentalist. He established a coalition of organization to
support the construction of the trail. The organizations are:
Milt handed the leadership of the trail construction over to Bill Larson.
the Chairman of the Coalition for Seneca Creek Greenway Trail organization.
Other member of the coalition include Tom Gray, who scouted the trail route, and
Bob Shewmaker, who designed and lead construction of the bridges. All work on the
trail across state park land was done in conjunction with state park personnel.
In January 1995 the first 5.6 mile section from River Road to Route 28 was flagged.
It took another two years to complete a section of trail from the Potomac to
Seneca Creek State Park. Trail construction has been an all volunteer effort with
many organizations participated in the work, including
Americor, Boy Scouts, and some of the clubs mentioned above.
- American Hiking Society
- Audubon Naturalist Society
- Mountain Club of Maryland
- Sierra Club - Montgomery County Group
- Seneca Valley Sugarloafers Volksmarch Club
- Village Outreach Volunteers
In 2001, Mark Nelson, Special Events Coordinator at REI, took over coordinating the
construction of the trail from Route 355 to the Patuxent River State Park. This
section of trail is on Montgomery County park land. Maryland - National Capitol Parks
and Planning Commission personnel approved and participated in the development of
By the end of 2003, the sections from Rt. 355 to the Magruder Branch Trail, near
Route 124, were completed.
The Natural History
This description was taken from a pamphlet produced by the Coalition
for Seneca Creek Greenway Trail.
Seneca Creek drains the Piedmont province of central Maryland and is
confined within the Potomac Terrane, comprised of rocks of the Mather
Gorge Formation, which are Late Proterozoic to Early Cambrian (600 -
540 million years old), as identified by Coalition geologist Scott
Southworth. "The rocks appear to be packages of sediments that were
deposited in a deep water ocean basin that predated the Atlantic
Ocean. Younger rocks were deposited about 200 million years ago,
these red rocks are exposed near the mouth of the Seneca at the
Potomac River, where it was quarried for use in the C&O Canal
structures. The rocks exposed along Seneca Creek are structurally
complex, since they have been folded and faulted numerous times.
Metagraywacke (dirty sandstone) and numerous veins of white quartz
that were injected into the rock during the mountain building process
The following was taken from a 1980 M-NCPPC publication.
"The thick layers of red sandstone and shale were laid on horizontal
"redbeds" during Trassic times about 200 million year ago, when western
Montgomery County was a semi-arid basin much like modern Nevada.
Sand and clay washed from the uplands during sporadic heavy rains,
spread in thick fans across the basin floor and in time hardened into rock"
"When first cut, Seneca stone is relatively easy to work, but hardens
on prolonged exposure to the air"
The following was taken from "Goshen, Maryland: Its History and People" by
"A system of high hills known as Parr's Ridge crosses the county diagonally.
These hills and plateaus are separated by streams and creeks that water the
territory abundantly. Seneca Creek is fed by numerous tributaries bordering
Parr's Ridge, which is separated from the headwaters of the Patuxent River
by a barrier of slate that curves from Damascus to Laytonsville and beyond."
The main stream of Seneca falls about 275 feet.
According to a brochure written by the M-NCPPC in Dec. 1974, the Seneca Creek
Basin covers 82,500 acres, about 28% of Montgomery County. It has
72 miles of major stream channels and an average flow rate of 62
million gallons per day measured at Route 28.
Seneca Creek Historical Role
The following material was taken from
"A History of Early Water Mills in Montgomery County" by Eleanor M.V. Cook
"Mills on the Seneca and Their Tributaries" by Doris B. Cobb
"History of Western Maryland" by J. Thomas Scharf
Seneca Creek is named after the Seneca tribe of Indians who were
indigenous to western New York and western Maryland. There were
an Iroquoian tribe. "Seneca" is Algonquian for "people of the
Seneca Creek, along with the other creeks in Montgomery County, was
almost the only source of power for the first 150 years of settlement.
In 1795, Middlebrook Mills was up for sale and a selling point was
Seneca Creek, described as "the most powerful consistent stream in the
county". Water power drove Grist mills, Saw mills, bellows for forges
and Fulling mills.
Fulling mills dealt with processing woolen cloth. "In those days, home
woven woolen cloth, as it came off the loom, was dirty and of loose weave.
It needed fulling to remove the grease and compact the fibers before
being useful as blankets or clothing." "In a prolonged operation, the
rough-woven cloth was soaked in a special solution of fuller's earth,
an absorbent clay which took nearly all the natural grease from the wool.
The mill was used to pound the cloth by raising and letting fall a series
of hammers as the cloth was moved and turned in soapy water. This had the
effect of compacting the cloth and increased its strength and durability.
It could then be dried and dressed to raise the nap of the material.
Grist mills used a pair of millstones to grind grains such as buckwheat,
rye and corn. The grain was dribbled into a hole in the center of the top
stone. The top moved while the bottom was stationary. The faces of both
were furrowed to cut the grain and channel the ground meal or flour to
the edge of the stones. There were two types of millstones. Country stones
were quarried locally and used for coarse flour. Cullin stones, German
millstones from Cologn and French Burrs(Buhrs), made of quartz, were used for
fine wheat flour. There were imported quite early and cost about three time
more than country stones. A mill owner advertised,
in 1795, that he had burrs. A fine example of a mill stone may be seen
at the Clopper Mill ruins.
Montgomery County had 44 mills before 1800. Eight of them were on Seneca
Creek and its tributaries. Perhaps the oldest was at Seneca Ford, near the
mouth of Seneca Creek. It already existed by 1732. The dates are
based on Maryland State assessments, one being done in 1783.
By 1806, Montgomery County had over 50 mills including 38 merchant and grist
mills, 8 or 10 saw mills, 2 linseed oil mills, 1 power mill, 1 fulling mill,
and 1 castor oil mill.
By the 1840's the land in Montgomery County had become worn out. New settlers were
headed for the rich soils in Tennessee and Kentucky. It was only with the opening
of the Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road and the introduction
of the use of fertilizers that farming was reinvigorated. The use of lime, bone,
phosphates and other fertilizers allowed significant increases in yields of wheat
and Indian corn. In 1850, Montgomery County listed 51 mills; 6 flour,
25 grist, 15 saw, 1 bone, 2 clover, 1 paper, 1 sumac.
A survey of Seneca Creek mill, currently in progress, has found nineteen mills
along Seneca Creek and its tributaries. The are:
Grist mills continued to do a lively business into the early 1900's
grinding wheat. Montgomery County was once a
highly intensive wheat growing region. Wheat was grown more
intensively in central Maryland than anywhere else in the USA except
Kansas and South Dakota. The milling business declined by WWI and
few were in operation after 1925.
- Seneca Ford (Tschiffely Mill) 1732 - 1931 on Seneca Creek
- Black Rock Mill 1815 - 1920's on Great Seneca Creek
- Hoyles Mill ??? - 1893 on Little Seneca Creek
- Clopper Mill (Maccubbin's Mill) ca. 1768 on Great Seneca Creek
- Long Draught Mill (Hutton's Mill) pre 1850 on Long Draught Branch,
a tributary of Great Seneca Creek
- Middlebrook Mills (Good Will Mills, Faw's Mill) ca. 1795 on Great
- Walker's Mill 1877 - 1932 on Whetstone Branch, a tributary of Great
- Watkins Mill ca. 1783 - 1908? on Great Seneca Creek
- Davis Mill ca. 1783 on Great Seneca Creek
- Ford's Mill ca. 1825 on Wildcat Branch above Davis Mill
- Goshen Mill (Crow's Mill, Riggs Mill) ca. 1774 - 1890 on Goshen Branch, a
tributary to Great Seneca Creek
- Waters Mill ca. 1810 - 1895 on Little Seneca Creek
- Wolfs Cow (Darby Mill) ca. 1783 on Bucklodge Branch, which joins Little Seneca
Creek to form Seneca Creek
- Lost Britches (Pyles Mill) ca. 1799 near a feeder stream to Ten
Mile Creek which is a tributary to Little Seneca Creek
- Veirs Sawmill on Bucklodge Branch
- Magruder Sawmill on Great Seneca Creek
- Samuel Darby Mill (Oakland Grist and Sawmill) on Great Seneca Creek
- Dawson's Mill on Dry Seneca Creek
- Midford Mill on Dry Seneca Creek
If you are interested in more information about the mills on Seneca
Creek and its tributaries, click here.
Seneca Creek Mill Study
One other possible industry along a tributary of Great Seneca Creek
was a Copper Mine. One may have been located downstream from Goshen Mill.
Seneca Creek was once the heart of commerce for the farmers in its region.
Now it is important for its recreational value. The many users of the
Seneca Creek Greenway trail, hikers, bikers, horseback riders, birders, etc.
bear witness to its growing popularity.
The following quote was taken from "History of Western Maryland"
by J. Thomas Scharf page 648
In 1695, "Richard Brightwell, with more adventurous spirit than any of the
previous settlers, and actuated by a noble impulse, ascended the Potomac
River as far as the mouth, and above it, to the Great Seneca, and sought
to establish a settlement far from his neighbors, where he and his friends
could enjoy the pleasure and excitements of fishing and hunting. Here could
be found in abundance
buffaloes, bears, wolves, and deer,
Mountain and the chain of hills that extended to the Monacacy River affording
them ample shelter and protection from the skill and pursuit of the wily
Pictures of the current denizens of the Seneca Creek drainage may be seen at:
Photos of Wildlife
BACK TO MAIN PAGE
This page was last updated on 10.22.11