By John Brady, Forest Historian
July 16, 2023
The history of the Black Rock Forest (BRF) shop began in 1928. Arthur Babcock, the newly appointed Forest Manager purchased the then farmhouse, barn and five acres of land from Kate Clark. Prior to coming into Clark’s hands, the land was conveyed to John Green by Henry Chadeayne, in 1858. The five-acre farm was located between the two brooks, Black Rock and Canterbury, which merged below the farm.
With the formation of Black Rock Forest in the fall of 1927 the location of the forest manager’s farm would prove invaluable. At that time, before 9W (constructed in 1941), the practical entryway into the Forest was Continental Road. With Babcock’s farm located on this road, this entrance trumped the other entryways at West Point and Mine Hill Roads. Dr. Stillman would realize the importance of the forest shop and purchased the Babcock farm in 1940.
The tools of the era were hand and horse. The Babcocks, being horsemen, soon turned the barn over to horses and began the construction of a blacksmith shop including a hand tool and lumber shop in 1928. Today, the shop comprises an active sawmill, modern machinery and houses the construction vehicles used in forest operations.
Since the forest shop would be the meeting place of forest workers before heading to the forest to maintain horses, mules, oxen, and hand tools – the shop became the origin of forest reclamation and the development of forest management. The labors of road and trail building, tree plantations, forest management, and most research projects were then and continue to be dependent on the forest shop. The shop was also used as a classroom by forest students before The Science Center was built in 1999.
In 1954, under the supervision of Director Ben Stout, the neighboring woodshed was built. The two-story building would house relics from BRF and Stillwood Farm, also owned by Dr. Ernest Stillman. Among those items stored in the loft were corn choppers and grinders, horse apparel and the heavy attachments to the old “rock crusher.” A small museum of forest history, as well as the hiding place of the best lumber to come off the forest sawmill. The ground floor was dedicated to the needs of the forest in five open bays.
In 2021 Ben Brady, Equipment Operator and Builder, would upgrade the shop buildings: enlarging the 1928 shop, replacing the dirt floor with concrete, roof with metal, and adding electricity, heating and much more. A much-needed upgrade for the new age of BRF. The new buildings were passed on to Ben’s brother, Matthew, the Forest Manager. Black Rock Forest was meeting its forest needs in an efficient manner.
Until Sunday July 9, 2023. A century of hurricanes and storms, like hurricane Irene which brought 8.36 inches in August 2011 and Floyd at 10.62 inches in September 1999 (the second highest precipitation total at the Forest), and Black Rock Brooks had never breached the shop foundations.
This recent, unnamed storm brought 6.1 inches of rain in five hours to the area around the shop. The surge of water undermined the nearly 100-year-old shop and woodshed. The new stream channel is now under the two buildings. Tools, equipment, and a wood stove dropped into the current and were swept downstream – some items were recovered later when water levels receded. The sad aftermath was devastating. The 1928 shop’s 10-foot-high stone wall along with concrete was missing on the side facing the brook and a large hole in the stone wall faced upstream. Only half of the 1928 shop remains intact. The woodshed (now called the Lumber Barn) did not fare as well. The concrete floors fell into the current, which carried away much of its contents, leaving the well-built structure unsupported streamside – a threat to fall in the streambed. The Town of Cornwall acted immediately, their largest machine and the crane from Quality Towing mitigated the danger by turning the building into an open work area. Now the Forest Manger carefully combs through the wreckage. Salvaging what he can while contemplating what he will do with the severely damaged 1928 shop and the new course of Black Rock Brook.
This event has rattled the foundation of Black Rock, but all are on board to rise stronger.