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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

“Only God Can Make a Tree”
A History of Lewis County’s Hough Memorial Forest

By Mitch Fidler 

 
“Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree”. When American poet Joyce Kilmer penned these lines in February of 1913 he was no doubt inspired by the power and beauty of one of God’s greatest gifts to man. Since he wrote the poem at the family residence in Mahwah, New Jersey, scholars believe he was motivated by the well-wooded lawn of the family residence that overlooked the forested Ramapo Valley. The forests of the Black River Valley have likewise motivated people from Lewis County. The New York State Conservation Department entitled Martinsburg native Franklin B. Hough the Father of American Forestry. His son, Romeyn, published a fourteen volume masterwork , American Woods, a book that remains invaluable to silviculturalists. Lewis County’s first Forester, Castorland native Theodore P. Woolschlager, has done more than most, on the local level, to advance the importance of forests and to honor the memory and contributions of the Houghs. Ted Woolschlager was the driving force behind the creation of Lewis County’s Hough Memorial Forest

The elder Hough’s contributions to forestry are enormous and well known to many in the area. An 1843 graduate of Union College, Hough began publishing scientific writings shortly thereafter. He obtained his MD in 1848, but was drawn more to research and writing. By 1862 he had published histories of St. Lawrence, Franklin, Jefferson and Lewis counties. He returned to medicine as a surgeon for the 97th NY Infantry during the Civil War. In 1855 and 1865 Hough oversaw the compilation of the New York State census. This is where he noticed an alarming decline in the availability of timber in that ten year period. Hough then began to lobby Congress on the dangers of deforestation and to regulate the use of forests and establish forestry schools. His 650 page Report on Forestry (1877) was widely read and in 1881 the U.S. Department of Agriculture created the Division of Forestry. Lewis County’s F.B. Hough was chosen to be the first United States Forester.

Hough’s second son, Romeyn Beck Hough, is also a noted student of botany and forestry. He obtained degrees from Cornell University and studied medicine at Columbia. Like his father he set aside the practice of medicine to be a writer. In 1888, three years after his father’s death, he published the first volume of tree studies titled American Woods. This work, totaling fourteen volumes and featuring twenty five trees each, is invaluable to botanists, technical schools, libraries and industry because it identifies properties, use and distribution of 354 varieties of trees in the U.S. and Canada. Hough provides three samples of each tree studied in the form of a wafer-thin, translucent slice. This slicing machine itself became so popular that a factory was built to produce them after Romeyn obtained his patent. R. B. Hough died at his summer cottage on Brantingham Lake in 1924. In 2009, appraiser Ken Sanders valued a complete set of American Woods at $30,000.

To honor the memory and contributions of the Houghs, Theodore P. Woolschlager planned the Hough Memorial Forest in New Bremen. Ted was Lewis County’s first Forester. He grew up on the family farm on the Merz road in Castorland. He graduated from Carthage High in 1913. He then attended one year of teacher training at a normal school and taught for two years in Castorland. He then enrolled in the college of Forestry at Syracuse University but was drafted in 1917 as the U.S. prepared for World War One. He served in the78th Infantry Division. He finished college in Syracuse in 1922 and began a twenty nine year career with the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Agriculture. His specialty was pathology where he studied tree diseases in New York and cartography where he created property maps so that regions could manage their forests now and in the future.

It is only in his retirement that Ted planned and carried out the creation of the Hough Memorial Forest in New Bremen. In 1958, Mr. Woolschlager had recently completed a project on picnic area with stunning views of water falls on Fish Creek as it tumbles towards the Black River. This popular 105 acre tract in the Town of Greig is known as Singing Waters. He then turned his attention to a 61 acre parcel then for sale as part of the Sam and Mary Kieffer estate located one mile east of the hamlet of New Bremen on St. Rt. 812. Theodore encouraged County leaders to purchase the aging sugar bush with the specific purpose of creating an arboretum and encouraging botanical study. This area would not be like Singing Waters with its 100 camp sites. This property would host forty two, one acre plots in checker board fashion each planted with a different tree species. Eventually there were sixty different varieties. The plots are labeled for study and observation. On many occasions Hough Forest has become an outdoor classroom for local schools and colleges. This focus on learning would certainly have delighted the Houghs.

Mr. Woolschlager called the memorial project an “experimental forest”. It consisted of native and introduced conifers and hardwoods. Most of the trees were grown from seed collected by the County Forester in seed beds at the Lowville State Nursery at Dadville. Some of the seeds were western varieties sent East by Woolschlager’s son, Hawley, a forester in Washington State. Other tree species came from exotic seeds collected by Ted. The first trees were planted in the fall of 1958. Visitors today can see labelled examples of sugar maple, soft maple, red oak, white oak, white pine, Austrian pine, white spruce, Norway spruce, black walnut, white ash, Japanese Larch, red cedar, elm, yellow poplar, white cedar, red pine, blue spruce, silver maple, black locust, Norwegian maple, Jack pine, hemlock, horse chestnut, butternut, yellow birch, white birch, gray birch, tamarack, Scotch pine, hickory, beech, Douglas Fir and balsam fir. The old sugar bush hardwood was thinned out in 1975, the balsam fir stands were selectively cut in the 1990’s and some of the red pine was harvested after falling over in 2004.

On July 1, 1963 dignitaries and citizens gathered to dedicate the arboretum to the memory Franklin and Romeyn Hough. Folks have enjoyed the scenic walking trails there ever since then. Later County Foresters have kept the significance of the forest alive, especially Randy Kerr. He wrote several articles about Ted Woolschlager’s efforts and organized work details at the site. In 1990, the County Highway Department built a gravel road leading into the forest and the County Historical Society assisted in the replacement of the identification signs. Some of the original signs can be seen at the Historical Society. This fitting tribute to Lewis County natives with a national impact remains a treasure to be enjoyed by all for generations to come.

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