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Bicycling through the Seneca Countryside

The Seneca Sandstone Biking Trail follows several threads of a complex tapestry: the development of local canal structures from Seneca sandstone, and the milling and shipping of sandstone made possible by the canal. From the canal, a longer loop trail branches out to explore the stone’s use in homes and farms around Seneca Valley. The trail begins at the parking lot at Violet’s Lock. You will see the first six stops as you ride the C&O Canal towpath.

1. Violet’s Lock
Named for Ab Violette, the last locktender, whose house has disappeared. As you face west toward Seneca, Violet’s Lock is on the right, a “liftlock” that raised or lowered canal boats about eight feet. The lock on your left is a “guard lock,” through which local grain boats were admitted to the canal.

2. Dam #2
Slanting across the Potomac River to Virginia at the head of the Seneca rapids are the remains of a 2500 foot rock dam, built by the C&O Canal Company from quarry waste about 1828. Now mostly rubble, it still impounds a five mile pool (known as “Seneca Lake”) which supports heavy recreational use.

3. Canal Ditch
Around Seneca the ditch was kept at 60 feet wide and 6 feet deep and could handle boats carrying 120 tons of cargo. From Violet’s Lock to Georgetown the canal has been restored by the National Park Service, but above has been mostly left to nature since 1924 when commercial operations ended.

4. Riley’s Lock and Lockhouse (also called Seneca Lock)
Canallers boated day and night, sometimes shouting or blowing a horn to alert the locktender. The parking lot below the lockhouse was once a large basin where boats took on grain and flour from adjacent warehouses.

5. Seneca Aqueduct
This is the first of eleven aqueducts between Georgetown and Cumberland, Maryland. In boating days, the trough was full of water and carried canal boats over the creek.

6. Canal Turning Basin
Here boats tied up to load stone from the nearby mill. Since canal boats were over 90 feet long, occasional basins like this one were the only places to turn around.

7. Seneca Stone Mill
Built of Seneca sandstone about 1837, and used to cut and dress stone from the quarries just west of here. Freshly cut stone reached the mill on a narrow gauge railroad, in mule drawn gondola cars. Water from the turning basin powered a large turbine which ran the mill’s machinery.

8. Tschiffely Mill Site (pronounced Shif-fay-lee)
Mills on this site date back to 1780, about the time local farmers began to experiment with wheat. You will find the overgrown Tschiffely Mill race about 100 feet east of Poole’s Store, the next stop.

9. Poole’s General Merchandise Store
Thirsty? Cross River Road and stop in Poole’s store for a refreshing drink. This is an authentic general store, and a vital part of the rural community. Now follow Old River Road west. All the houses you will see are privately owned, so please stay on the public roads.

10. Allnutt House
This large white frame house was constructed in 1855 by Upton Darby, a prominent figure in the Seneca area. Turn right off of Old River Road onto Montevideo Road. At the first bend in Montevideo Road you will see the Rockland-Mann Farm on your right.

11. Rocklands
At the turn of the century, this house was the showplace and social center of the prosperous agrarian community. Built in 1878, it is an excellent example of local sandstone use, showing fine joining of the sandstone.

12. Bank Barns
A number of bank barns, similar to the one on the Rockland-Mann farm, exist in the area. A bank barn is a structure built into the side or slope of a hill, thus providing direct access to both the upper and lower levels. The upper level was usually used to store animal feed and equipment. The lower level housed the animals.

13. Stone Wall
A vivid example of one use for Seneca sandstone will be on your left before the next bend in Montevideo Road. Now turn left onto Sugarland Road and left again onto Partnership Road.

14. Dawson House
This house built in 1808 by Robert Dawson carries an interesting story. Apparently Dawson and his family never lived in the house. Rumor speculates that Dawson’s children did not appreciate his second wife and refused to live there. Has the Dawson House ever been occupied? That question remains unanswered today. Continue down Partnership Road and turn left onto River Road. Ride carefully, staying on the shoulder, because of high-speed traffic on this road.

15. Sandstone School House
This one-room school house (to your right), built of Seneca sandstone, was constructed in 1863. The school house consists of two sections: the front vestibule was used for the storage of coats and lunch buckets; the larger room served as the classroom.

16. Montevideo
In 1825, Mr. J.P.C. Peter, the great grandson of Martha Washington, built this house (on your left far down a private driveway.) The Peter family owned the Seneca sandstone quarry and numerous tracts of farmland in the area. The house provides a beautiful example of federal style architecture.

17. Overseer’s House
Built in 1935 of Seneca sandstone, this structure housed the overseer of the Peters’ estate. Continue down River Road and turn right again onto Violet’s Lock Road.

18. C.M.E. Church
On the hilltop to your left off Violet’s Lock Road, the weathered clapboard shell was built about 1900 to serve the local C.M.E. (Colored Methodist Episcopal) Church congregation.

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