History of the Greenway Trail

Trail Opening Picture
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:
  1. American Hiking Society
  2. Audubon Naturalist Society
  3. Co-Nature
  4. Mountain Club of Maryland
  5. Sierra Club - Montgomery County Group
  6. Seneca Valley Sugarloafers Volksmarch Club
  7. Village Outreach Volunteers
Milt handed the leadership of the trail construction over to Bill Larson. Bill became 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.

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 the trail. 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 are abundant."

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 Ardith Boggs
"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 standing rock".

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:
  1. Seneca Ford (Tschiffely Mill) 1732 - 1931 on Seneca Creek
  2. Black Rock Mill 1815 - 1920's on Great Seneca Creek
  3. Hoyles Mill ??? - 1893 on Little Seneca Creek
  4. Clopper Mill (Maccubbin's Mill) ca. 1768 on Great Seneca Creek
  5. Long Draught Mill (Hutton's Mill) pre 1850 on Long Draught Branch, a tributary of Great Seneca Creek
  6. Middlebrook Mills (Good Will Mills, Faw's Mill) ca. 1795 on Great Seneca Creek
  7. Walker's Mill 1877 - 1932 on Whetstone Branch, a tributary of Great Seneca Creek
  8. Watkins Mill ca. 1783 - 1908? on Great Seneca Creek
  9. Davis Mill ca. 1783 on Great Seneca Creek
  10. Ford's Mill ca. 1825 on Wildcat Branch above Davis Mill
  11. Goshen Mill (Crow's Mill, Riggs Mill) ca. 1774 - 1890 on Goshen Branch, a tributary to Great Seneca Creek
  12. Waters Mill ca. 1810 - 1895 on Little Seneca Creek
  13. Wolfs Cow (Darby Mill) ca. 1783 on Bucklodge Branch, which joins Little Seneca Creek to form Seneca Creek
  14. Lost Britches (Pyles Mill) ca. 1799 near a feeder stream to Ten Mile Creek which is a tributary to Little Seneca Creek
  15. Veirs Sawmill on Bucklodge Branch
  16. Magruder Sawmill on Great Seneca Creek
  17. Samuel Darby Mill (Oakland Grist and Sawmill) on Great Seneca Creek
  18. Dawson's Mill on Dry Seneca Creek
  19. Midford Mill on Dry Seneca Creek
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.

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.

Wildlife History

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, the Sugar-Loaf 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 hunter."

Pictures of the current denizens of the Seneca Creek drainage may be seen at: Photos of Wildlife

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This page was last updated on 10.22.11