Seneca Creek State Park is a public recreation area located on the south side of the Potomac River, three miles (4.8km) southeast of St. Marys in Garrett County, Maryland. The state park’s 708 acres (284ha) include forested hills and valleys; waterfalls; historic buildings including an 18th-century tavern and blacksmith shop; and archaeological sites dating back to prehistoric times. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Seneca Plantation Archeological Site in 2004. “Seneca” derives from the name of the local Indian tribe, the Seneck, which meant “roily water people”.
Today, the park has eight named trails totaling 35 miles (56km), ranging from easy to moderate difficulty, and includes four separate picnic areas. The Seneca Ridge Trail follows the ridge line west from Rockville Road before turning north onto Conococheague Parkway and then heads east again on Kent Island Road. From the trailhead parking lot, visitors can see Mount Vernon across the river, the Jefferson Memorial across the northern part of the park, and the Lincoln Memorial just below the dam at the southern tip of the park. The Seneca Point Trail starts at the same place as the Seneca Ridge Trail but veers southwest on Kent Island Road toward Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church and Cemetery.
The churchyard contains the grave of Mary E Ford, granddaughter of Thomas Lewis, who fled her home during the Whiskey Rebellion only to die later of consumption in Baltimore. She is buried alongside other relatives, among them Samuel and Rachelle Fisher, whose son also died young. The Tom Hill Farm Trail runs northwest from Rockville Road along Old Cahokia Trace, the main road used by the early European settlers to reach their farms and plantations. The trace becomes Sycamore Drive once it reaches the MasonDixon line. The drive loops around the park office and campground before becoming New Germany Road and continuing northeast to North Calvert Street. New Germany Road intersects with Longwood Avenue, the main street of town, where it turns right and becomes South Carolina Avenue. Then it heads east on SC Avenue past the post office, general store, and blacksmith shop before reaching its eastern terminus at Buckquarter Road.
The Buckquarter Road Trail forms the loop of the horse trail within the park. Starting at the intersection of Rockville Road and Longwood Avenue, it heads due north, passing the park office, camping area, and blacksmith shop, and then turns left on Kent Island Road. It crosses under I-95 and heads east on Roper Road, running parallel to the highway until it reaches its eastern terminus at Fries Junction Road. The Fries Junction Road Trail is the shortest trail in the park, covering less than half the distance of the Tom Hill Farm Trail. It begins at the intersection of Longwood Avenue and Woodrow Road, making a sharp turn north on Oakmont Avenue, and then heads east on Fries Junction Road. It passes the old mill ruins, the park office, and the blacksmith shop, and ends at the footbridge that carries you across the creek to the Tom Hill Farm Trail. The Mill Creek Falls Trail drops down from the ridge above the park to the valley below. It makes a short walk down the hill to Mill Creek Falls, and then continues downstream to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. The falls are in full view from the trail, which stays close to the stream except when crossing bridges or climbing steep sections.
There are several moderately difficult climbs on the route, mostly consisting of rocky paths with some tree cover. The 0.75-mile-long (1.21km) path ends at the base of a 40-foot (12m) waterfall, dropping from the ridge top down a series of steps. The Appalachian Trail enters the park 1 mile (1.6km) farther east on Rockville Road. Its 3.5-mile (5.6km) length places it among the longest trails in Maryland. The AT splits off from the Seneca Creek Trail at Fries Junction Road, going east on its own briefly before bending south to rejoin the original trail 2.2 miles (3.5km) later. The split occurs just shy of the park boundary, so the trails still meet at the bottom of the mountain at Fries Junction Road. The summit of Mount Rogers, the highest point in the park, offers views of the entire region. On clear days, even the distant peaks of the Appalachians can be seen. Weather permitting, a good portion of the peak may be viewed seasonally from the access road. Access to the upper portions of the mountain requires special permits reserved for hikers. The lower portions of the mountain are open to hiking and cross-country skiing.
The park features seven creeks flowing north from the Potomac River, giving rise to numerous waterfalls and rapids. Some of these waterways have been modified for recreational use, with dams and reservoirs providing flat surfaces for canoeing and fishing. Canoes and kayaks are available to rent. The park has ten maintained campsites, ranging from tent sites to fully equipped yurts. Unreservable campsite #9 is accessible via a hike of .25 miles (0.40km). Campsites vary in amenities, but generally offer electric hookups, modern restrooms, hot showers, swimming pool, playground, and access to hiking and biking trails. The park hosts an annual Halloween weekend event, “Hawk Watch”, in which participants search the skies for raptors using telescopes provided by the Montgomery County Department of Natural Resources. Hawk Watch takes place the third Saturday in October every year. Over 3,000 birds of nearly 70 different species attend the event.
In 1637, Captain John Smith was given land by the English Crown near present-day Leesylvania for establishing a plantation. He chose the site along Seneca Creek because of its fertile soil. At first, the colony struggled to survive, and many of those living off the farm worked in the lumber trade or as servants at nearby Mount Airy Manor. By 1638, enough colonists had arrived to begin farming. However, poor weather conditions and attacks by Native Americans led to low crop yields, and starvation became a problem. To make matters worse, several settlers died from diseases such as dysentery and consumption. These problems were not solved until about fifty more immigrants arrived the following year.
Among these new arrivals was William Brenton, who established himself as a prominent farmer and political figure. With encouragement from England, he set up his household in what would become known as Brenton Hall, built a barn 90 feet square with walls 30 inches thick, planted over 400 apple trees, and began lobbying the colonial government to protect his property against encroachment by outsiders. Although he never actually lived there, it became the center of social activity for the surrounding countryside. A small detachment of soldiers was stationed there to keep the peace between feuding families, and when one family dispute went too far, two companies of men from the garrison were sent to eject them.
One such incident occurred in 1774, when a group of 200 disreputable individuals, most of them recent Scottish Highlanders, broke into the manor house while another group of 300 peaceful colonists waited outside. After breaking into the building, they each took a musket ball, five pistol bullets, and 20 grains of powder hostage for safe conduct through the countryside. As soon as Colonel Bowie heard this report, he called out his own force of 100 men, and after chasing the Scotsmen all the way to the Potomac River, killed 50 of them and captured 10 others. This marked the end of large scale warfare in western Pennsylvania, as no further resistance was offered to the rule of the British Empire.