rileys lockhouse, Girl Scout History Project

Nestled inside a quiet bend of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal near Seneca, Maryland, Riley’s Lockhouse offers Girl Scouts a unique opportunity to learn about daily life in the 1870s as well as museum careers.

On weekends in the fall and spring, Girl Scouts dress in authentic period clothing and share the history of the Riley home to visitors of all ages. They serve as docents, demonstrating daily chores from the 1870s. They wash clothes, churn butter, sing, play games, sew quilt squares, and make corn husk dolls.

rileys lockhouse, Girl Scout History Project
Welcome to Riley’s Lockhouse! (GSCNC Archives)

What’s a Lockhouse?

The C&O Canal was in use from 1831 to 1924, with 1871 its peak year. It ran from the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, to Cumberland, Maryland; 185 miles. Barges navigating the canal used a series of 74 locks to adjust to the changing depth; from sea level in Georgetown to 605 feet in Cumberland. Riley’s is located at lock 24. Today, the canal’s towpath is popular with cyclists, joggers, and history buffs.

rileys lockhouse, Girl Scout History Project
Approaching the lockhouse (Echo Reardanz)

Girl Scout Program since 1975

In October 1975, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital launched the Riley’s Lockhouse History Program through a special permit from the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Searching for a special way to mark the US bicentennial, Cadette Troop 2032 of Bethesda, Maryland, devised a project to demonstrate how families lived in the 1870s.

rileys lockhouse, Girl Scout History Project
Veteran C&O volunteer and Girl Scout Joan Paull trains leaders in 19th century life (photo by Echo Reardanz)

In 2007 the Riley’s Lockhouse Program received the national Take Pride in America award from the US Department of the Interior. The program also won the 2007 George B. Hartzog, Jr., award for outstanding volunteer youth group in the local National Capital Region.

Over 40 years later, the program remains popular. Girl Scout troops still change into period costumes and give tours on Saturdays and Sundays in the spring and fall.

Sign Me Up!!

Leaders of troops interested in participating in the lockhouse experience need to take a half-day training course so that they can learn appropriate skills and teach them to their troop. Training classes are offered in both the fall and spring.

The program is open to all Girl Scouts, not just troops registered with Nation’s Capital. Many of the photos featured here were taken by Echo Reardanz, a volunteer from the Girl Scout Council of Central Maryland who frequently brings troops to the lockhouse.

For more information about the program, contact

©2018 Ann Robertson

4 responses to “Girl Scouts Bring History to Life at Riley’s Lockhouse”

  1. Long ago my troop participated in this when we lived in VA. Wonderfull photo of Joan Paull! This is where I met BJ Myers also.

    1. BeJay passed away a few months ago.

  2. My troop participated in this program back in the 1990’s. Girls loved it!

  3. Thanks for sharing this delightful program, Ann!

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