Seneca Boxes - History along the Canal  LbNA # 29910

Placed DateApr 9 2007
LocationPotomac, MD
Planted ByVespa Vikings    
Found By paper trail
Last Found Apr 14 2016
Hike Distance?

(August 2011: note from LbNA Webmasters. Letterboxing in National Park areas without written permission from the local rangers is not allowed.)

** Rumor has it that high water may have washed away box #2 -- I'll go out and check soon. Box #1 seems to be just fine (and is a beautiful walk). **
Vespa Vikings 1/19/08

The Seneca Boxes - history along the canal

Park in the parking lot for Riley’s Lock lockhouse of the C&O Canal (near the intersection of Seneca Road/Route 112 and River Road adjacent to the Breton Woods Golf Course in Potomac).

Letterbox #1 – Ruins of the Seneca Stonecutting Mill.

Take the stairs up between the lockhouse and the Seneca Aqueduct. On certain weekends you can find out more about canal life in a tour of the lockhouse conducted by local Girl Scouts.

Walk over the Seneca Aqueduct. The Aqueduct is the first of 11 aqueducts on the C&O canal between Georgetown and Cumberland – and it’s the only one where an aqueduct and lock were built as a single structure. In boating days the aqueduct carried canal boats over Seneca Creek.

A few steps after the aqueduct, the towpath forks. Bear right along the “berm side” away from the river. You are going around the canal turning basin. Since canal boats were over 90’ long, you needed a basin such as this to turn around! In 1897 a passenger steamboat and freight boat carrying a full load of watermelon collided here – no serious injuries but history reports that locals collected free watermelon floating in the basin for several days!

Keep following the path to the right. At one point it appears that the path will fork again but 3 large rocks indicate no admittance, so keep following the path to the right. You shall soon see the ruins of the Seneca Stone Mill, a sign stating “Seneca Creek Greenway Trail” and a heavy metal gate crossing the path. Take the footpath to the left of the gate leading to the middle “door” of the mill. The mill was built about 1837 and you’ll see the remnants of the mill race that ran through the middle, powering the mill that cut the stone for the Smithsonian Castle, Cabin John Bridge and even some of the Washington Monument.

As you go through the remnants of the middle door, you’ll see a fallen tree that leans on the middle wall over the mill race and crashes to the floor beyond the stone wall. At the base of this tree is a large stone (perhaps one of the old window pediments) and a portion of a hollow log. Near the point where the stone and log meet, under the log is Letterbox #1 – Ruins of the Seneca Stonecutting Mill.

Letterbox #2 – Seneca Aqueduct

Retrace your steps around the basin and over the aqueduct. Pass “Old Man Johnny Riley’s” house – the last locktender at Seneca, who they say was never caught napping – he was always there with his lantern waving boats along.

There is a picnic area to your right between the towpath and the river. In the picnic area, just down the hill from the lockkeeper’s front door is a small park service grill. From the grill, with the aqueduct behind you (if “dozer” is at your back you’ve got it right), take 47 steps paralleling the towpath until you reach a very “holy tree.” Turn right (toward the river), take 7 more steps, and you’ll find the granddaddy of all twisted, gnarled trees, with branches that reach toward the sky and river. If you stand next to the “granddaddy” tree and face the river, you’ll see a 3-in-1 tree stretching nearly parallel to the water – only a few roots seem to hold it in place. Down the hill between “granddaddy” tree and 3-in-1 tree is the stump of a felled tree (a smooth, sawed top). Nestled at the base of the stump is Letterbox #2 – Seneca Aqueduct.