RFP: Historic Resource Study of the African American History of the Seneca Stone Cutting Mill at the C&O Canal National Historical Park (CHOH)

The National Park Service (NPS), through a cooperative agreement with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc., (ASALH), is seeking the services of a Principal Investigator (PI) who will achieve very specific goals. The primary goal of the project is to produce a Historic Resource Study (HRS) and Primary Source Lab for the African American history of the Seneca Quarry at the C&O Canal National Historic Park (CHOH).

This project will provide new historical context for understanding the Seneca Quarry and Stone Cutting Mill’s industrial history through the lens of African American social and labor history. The project will synthesize existing NPS documentation on the Seneca Quarry with new research on African American laborers and communities in the vicinity of the quarry during the nineteenth century. The historic resource study for the Seneca Stone Cutting Mill historic site will be used by park and regional managers to explain the history and significance of park cultural resources related to African American labor and settlement in the region, to better interpret its history and enhance the visitor experience, to connect with communities, to assist in future planning efforts,and to meet NPS responsibilities under Section 106 and 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

The contract is administered by ASALH and the work prepared for and completed in coordination with the National Park Service. All work accomplished by this research project will be credited to ASALH but becomes the property of the National Park Service and will be made publicly available.

Interested parties should submit a proposal in response to this RFP to ASALH no later than 5:00 pm EST on November 29, 2021. Electronic copies may be directed to ASALH at nps@asalh.org with the subject line “Seneca Quarry.”

Project Background

The Seneca Quarry is located in Montgomery County, MD, about 25 miles northwest of Washington, DC, on the east bank of the Potomac River. The Seneca Quarry provided the physical building blocks for parts of the C&O Canal, including multiple culverts, locks, and the Seneca Aqueduct. The quarry’s red sandstone was also a source of stone for the river’s first canal, built by the Potomac Company beginning in 1785, and works of architecture in and around Washington, DC, most famously including the Smithsonian Castle (1847-1848). Quarrying operations ceased around 1900. The Seneca Stone Cutting Mill, one of only two remaining buildings standing in ruins from the historic quarry, is on the east side of the quarry, directly adjacent to the C&O Canal NHP, and is being transferred from the State of Maryland to the NPS. The mill was constructed of Seneca stone c. 1828-1830 and active until 1900. Using water from the Canal to power its water wheel and later a turbine, the mill used a toothless blade to cut sandstone at a rate of an inch an hour, and cut granite and stone shipped from neighboring quarries. The extraction of Seneca red sandstone was foundational to the economic growth of the capital city and its connections westward during the nineteenth century.

Less is known, however, of the everyday lived experiences of the people who worked in the quarries. The African American community at Seneca was established at least 125 years ago by formerly enslaved people who worked in the sandstone quarries and mill. The quarry’s active years also fell during an epoch which encompassed pivotal historical events such as the growth of the early American Republic, slavery and resistance, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the growth of free Black communities in Maryland. Modern descendants live on nearby Berryville Road, where there is still an active church community, and a historic cemetery near the Seneca Quarry site may connect family histories past and present.

Primary research questions for the project include the following: What is the pre and post emancipation social history of the site and connected communities? How should NPS approach the work of preserving the history of the people who lived and worked at Seneca Stone Cutting Mill? What opportunities, if any, exist regarding collaborations with the descendent community there? The historic resource study will synthesize existing documentation of the site, expand research on its African American history, and provide the NPS with foundational information for understanding the potential significance of park resources to local communities and broader publics.

The full RFP, including technical requirements, project timeline, and funding amounts, among other details, is available in PDF format here.