The Seneca River originates in northern Oconee County in the Blue Ridge Mountains in northwest South Carolina and is about 50 miles (80 kilometres) long. It flows south-southeast through the large Lake Keowee reservoir where it receives the Keowee River from the north, and past Clemson as the large northern arm of the Lake Hartwell reservoir. It joins the Tugaloo River west-northwest of Anderson, South Carolina to form the Savannah River in Hartwell Lake. Most of the original riverbed now lies underneath the lakes but a short stretch of the original alignment exists on Clemson bottom lands near the baseball stadium and football practice facilities. It was isolated by the two diversionary dikes built in the late 1950's as part of the Hartwell Dam project to protect Clemson property including Death Valley from inundation by the coming lake. The original covered road bridge over the Seneca River on the Old Greenville Highway was known as Ravenel's Bridge, the family that owned property immediately west of the college.
1893 STATUTES AT LARGE OF SOUTH CAROLINA No. 463:
- "AN ACT to Authorize and Empower the Trustees of Clemson Agricultural College to Aid the County Commissioners of Oconee and Pickens Counties in Purchasing Ravenel's Bridge, Over Seneca River, in Oconee and Pickens Counties.
- "SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of South Carolina, now met and sitting in General Assembly, and by the authority of same, That the Trustees of Clemson Agricultural College be, and they are hereby, authorized and empowered to aid the County Commissioners of Oconee and Pickens in purchasing from the owners [of] Ravenel's Bridge, over the Seneca River, in Oconee and Pickens Counties, and pay for the same out the funds appropriated by the State to said College: Provided, That they do not pay more than fifteen hundred dollars for the same: Provided, further, That the State shall not be held liable in any manner whatever for the rebuilding or repairing said bridge.
The single-span through-truss bridge had the steelwork removed but the concrete abutments were not dismantled (though the obelisks were removed in the 1981-1982 drought) when Lake Hartwell was created but was submerged under pond level. During a drought in the mid-1980's the lake level fell so far that boaters began to snag the bridge structure and it was marked as a hazard to navigation. The same condition emerged in the drought of 2007, with buoys at the same spot.
As of November 8, 2008, Lake Hartwell has fallen to a record low of 639.3 feet MSL (full pool is 660 ft. MSL), and the entire remains of Ravenel's Bridge, later Memorial Bridge, and portions of the western highway roadbed are above water.