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Tree Falls into Wall of Historic Site at Seneca Creek State Park

Seneca Quarry produced the stone for the Smithsonian Castle more than a century ago.

A tree has fallen onto a historic site at Seneca Creek State Park -- the remains of the quarry that produced the signature red blocks of the Smithsonian Castle on the mall in Washington, DC, more than a century ago.

Seneca Quarry was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s.

Photos provided by historian Garrett Peck show a large trunk on top of a wall of brick at the site. Peck leads tours of the quarry and is finishing up a book about it. He said he noticed the damage on Saturday and notified park officials.

“Short term, the tree has got to come out,” Peck said. “It's got to come out soon. The longer it sits there leaning up against the quarry wall, the more pressure it puts on it, the more likely it is to collapse.”

Charles Mazurek, Historic Preservation Planner with the Department of Natural Resources, said park officials were in the process of determining what to do with the tree and how to stabilize the site.

"It's one of my favorite buildings in the park," Mazurek said.

According to records from the Maryland Historical Trust, the quarry was the source of Seneca stone blocks for two Potomac River canals— Potomac Company and the C&O Canal Company—and for the Smithsonian.

Mazurek said its signature red stones were used for the Seneca Schoolhouse, which is now a museum.

But quarrying operations stopped at the site in 1900, according to state records. The the site of the stone cutting mill remained unoccupied and has deteriorated beyond use, state records show.

Mazurek said the quarry master's house was being maintained through the state's resident curatorship program. 

Peck said he first noticed the precariously leaning tree in November but did not notify anyone at state park of the problem at the time.

“I didn't think it would fall that quickly,” Peck said. “I figured we had two years, at least. The tree looked relatively healthy, although old.”

Peck said that to completely restore the quarry would be unreasonable. It’s roofless and overrun with vegetation and has more trees growing in and around it.

He said the quarry just needed “a little bit of love” so that the walls don’t continue to crumble.

“If you leave the building alone,” Peck said, “Nature will take over.” 

elgin etchison January 09, 2013 at 02:43 PM
As a kid, spending summers at my grand parents cottage along the creek, this was one of my favorite places to explore...

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