BETHLEHEM – Even as the smoke still rises from the ashes at the site of the fire that destroyed the 4 ½-story historic Tool Building at the Rocks, staff at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire are starting to figure out next steps to restoring programming at its North Country Conservation and Education Center.
“We’re just so thankful that no one was hurt,” said Jane A. Difley, President/Forester of the Forest Society, who counts the Rocks among her personal favorite places among the organization’s 185 Forest Reservations statewide. “We appreciate all the messages of support from the community, our volunteers and donors and the many customers who have a long tradition of cutting their own Christmas Tree every year at the Rocks.”
The fire broke out around 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13 in the lower level of the Tool Building, a large, multi-story structure that was the hub of activities at the Rocks, including offices for North Country director Nigel Manley and other staff. The Tool Building was quickly fully engulfed in flames, which spread to the smaller nearby former Electric Plant used as a gift shop. Both buildings are total losses, having burned to the ground. The NH Maple Museum, housed in the renovated Sawmill/Pigpen, is about a quarter mile from the site of the fire and was not damaged.
In response to requests, the Forest Society has set up a Rocks Fire Fund online for those who want to donate toward restoring operations at the Rocks. The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is a non-profit organization. https://forestsociety.org/project/rocks-fire-fund
Firefighters were able to save the house on the premises in which Manley and his wife live and which was steps away from the buildings on fire. Manley has worked for the Forest Society at the Rocks for three decades and is responsible for making the Rocks known far and wide as a Christmas Tree Farm, conservation education center, maple museum, tourist destination and site for private events, including weddings.
“Operationally it’s a big loss,” Manley acknowledged. “Farm equipment was lost, computer equipment was lost. We need time for clean-up of the debris. But we’ve already started thinking about our upcoming programs and how we might continue to function. For example, we’re looking for an alternative venue for the April 6 Maple Dinner, which is a popular event.”
“Long term we’re committed to the Rocks being our North Country Conservation and Education Center,” said Will Abbott, vice president of policy and reservation stewardship at the Forest Society. “But it’s too soon to say exactly how we might replace the resource that was the Tool Building. We’ll be assessing the needs, talking to the community, and thinking long term.”
The Rocks was for many years the summer home of Chicago businessman and International Harvester cofounder John Jacob Glessner and his family. In 1978, John and Frances Glessner’s grandchildren donated the 1,400-acre Rocks, including 22 buildings, to the Forest Society, with the requirement that there always be a crop in the field. For more than three decades, that crop has been Christmas trees, and people come to The Rocks from near and far each year to find their perfect tree. The Rocks is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Groups and individuals who have booked private events can reach Nigel Manley by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.