Since at least the 1690’s, European settlers used Black Rock Forest lands for subsistence farming, livestock grazing, and production of wood products. As reflected in environmental historian Neil Maher’s land use timeline, below, commercial farming and lumbering peaked between 1790 and 1880. Homesteaders cultivated wheat, created orchards, and dairy farmed on Forest lands, while continuing to cut timber for cordwood and charcoal. Some Forest lands were also mined for iron ore. Two of the abandoned mines are still visible today on Whitehorse Mountain and on Sackett Ridge.
Use of Black Rock Forest Lands, 1609-1928.Image courtesy of Neil Maher, Ph.D.
Cordwood and charcoal from Black Rock Forest helped supply the region’s iron- and brick-making industries, and demand for these products, as well as tannins from hemlock trees, resulted in repeated clearcutting of Forest lands. Much of the activity during this period was haphazard and uncontrolled, often causing or followed by fires. As a result, the Black Rock Forest area in the early 1900s was degraded, bearing little resemblance to the mature forest we see today.
While many artifacts of the homesteading era remain in Black Rock Forest, there is only one intact structure, the Stone House. This home was built in 1833 by the Kronkite family, which homesteaded 220 acres of surrounding land for three generations. The Stone House is located in the center of the Forest on Continental Road.
Dr. Maher researched the history of more than seventeen Black Rock Forest settlements in a 1994 paper entitled Black Rock’s Hidden Past: A History of Land use Practices Prior to the Creation of Black Rock Forest. To learn more about specific homesteaders’ activities you can read the entire paper or download the histories and maps of specific Black Rock Forest settlements here:
Site 1: The Mailley Property
Site 2: The Barton Property
Site 3: Aleck Dairy Farm
Site 4: The Pete Lewis Property
Site 5: Annie’s Cabin
Site 6: The Isaac Odell Property
Site 7: The Sam Drew Property
Site 8: The Billy Place
Site 9: The Satterlee Property
Site 10: The Ryerson Property
Site 11: The John Odell Property
Site 12: The Chatfield Property, also known as the Stone House
Site 13: The Joe Hulse Property
Site 14: The Bearmore Property
Site 15: Dr. Beattie’s Property
Site 16: The Hall Property
Site 17: Upper Reservoir Brook Dams