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Working to Connect Pennsylvanians to Michaux State Forest’s Deep and Important Conservation History

May 15, 2024 12:00 AM

Pulpit Rock extends out from mountain ridge in Michaux State Forest

​Located in the more than 85,000-acre Michaux State Forest in south central Pennsylvania is a rock outcrop that will forever be part of the country’s early history in the field of forestry.

The rock is located along a spine of rock outcrops about halfway between Mont Alto and the village of South Mountain; and it was at this rock that a now famous portrait was taken of Joseph Trimble Rothrock.

Joseph Trimble Rothrock: The Father of Pennsylvania Forestry

Old black and white photo of Joeseph Rothrock leaning on Pulpit Rock with his small dog standing behind him
Joseph Trimble Rothrock, M.D., Botanist, 1919, Photograph from the Library of Congress​

Rothrock was a true conservation visionary who would later become known as the Father of Pennsylvania Forestry and serve as the first state forester.

In the photo, Rothrock has his trusty rifle, and a hatchet han​gs from his belt.

Ever his loyal companion, his dog stands behind him, and they gaze out at the landscape below.

It isn’t hard to make an educated guess about what he may have been thinking at the time.

Rothrock saw what Pennsylvania’s forests could be after decades of harvest left much of the state’s woodlands barren in the name of rapid growth and feeding iron furnaces.

He set about buying and conserving lands that would become Pennsylvania’s state forests.

Forests that today provide the state’s citizens with a multitude of resources including clean air, fresh water, abundant recreational opportunities, habitat for a wide array of species, and renewable timber and wood products.

This area Rothrock views in the photo is known as ‘the cradle of forestry’ and for very good reason.

Mont Alto was one of only three forestry schools in the United States at the time and much of our early forestry history would be written here in what is now the Michaux State Forest.

Like all good leaders, Rothrock had those that admired his vision and wished to follow and learn from him.

Ralph Brock: First Academically Trained African American Forester

Old black and white photo featuring six young men in dark suits and ties standing in front of a large tree
Class of 1906, first g​raduates of the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy (left to right): Ralph E. Brock, Lewis E. Staley, William L. Byers, Robert G. Conklin, William H. Kraft, and John E. Avery. Photograph from the Forestry Education in Pennsylvania collection at Mont Alto Campus Library, Penn State Mont Alto.

Rothrock would serve as a mentor to many in the field of forestry, and one that stands out was a protégé named Ralph Brock.

Brock was born in 1881 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania and he was the first academically trained African American forester in the United States.

His father John C. Brock was a civil war veteran, having served in the Union Army’s 43rd Infantry Regiment.​

He graduated from the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy (now Penn State Mont Alto) in 1906 and went on to work as the nursery superintendent there from 1906 to 1911.

Old black and white photo showing fenced off area of nursery rows and people working in the nursery
State Forest Nursery, Mont Alto Reservation​, ​1902. Photo from Statement of Work Done by the Pennsylvania Department of Forestry During 1901 and 1902.

During his time as a student, Rothrock introduced Brock to forester George H. Wirt and together they would work on establishing the Mont Alto State Forest Reserve-most of which is now the Michaux State Forest.

Incidentally, George Wirt was the very first forester hired to work for the Commonwealth under Rothrock.

After leaving state service, Brock went on start his own business in landscaping, orchards, and gardens.

He would eventually practice his trade for John D. Rockefeller Jr. in places like the Dunbar Apartments in Harlem, Radio City Gardens at the Rockefeller Center, and Riverside Park in Manhattan.

He passed away in 1959 in Lawnside, New Jersey at the age of 79.

Connecting Visitors to These Important Conservation Stories and More

It has now been more than 125 years since that famous photo of Rothrock was taken at Pulpit Rock and it is hard to imagine that Ralph Brock didn’t visit the site as well.

Brock was known for quiet contemplation, and he had a deep appreciation for all things related to botany.

Those who spend time in Mont Alto and on the ridges of South Mountain are certain to sense the rich history here.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources plans to build the Michaux State Forest Visitor Center near the site of Pulpit Rock to tell these important stories and many others about Pennsylvania’s forestry heritage and the current work of the department’s Bureau of Forestry.​​

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