Firewood Treasures

Tollroad Chestnut
(Castanea dentata)

In 1787, the Maryland General Assembly authorized toll roads connecting Baltimore with Westminster, Frederick, Hanover, and York. One such road was today’s Md. Rte. 97. Just south of Silver Run, on Rte. 97, a toll house was built in 1793. When its present owner, John Carty, did some remodeling, he replaced the original mantle over the hearth. Originally believed to be red oak, this hand-hewn, soot-blackened, 5’ x 13” x 6” beam was in fact the heart of a 75 year old American chestnut. Thus the wood of this tree dates to approximately 1718, well before the American Revolution.

When the Europeans arrived in North America, one-fourth of the trees in the forest were American Chestnuts (Castanea dentata). Commonly over one hundred feet tall with trunks five to seven feet in diameter, they were the tallest and most bountiful member of the forest community. The durable, straight-grained wood was used for houses, barns, furniture, paneling and fences. Today much of the rail fencing along the Blue Ridge Parkway is chestnut. A dependable yearly crop of nuts provided food for wild birds, squirrels, turkeys, deer, and bears and cash for mountain families. After the blight (the fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica) struck in the early 1900’s, it left in its wake over 3.5 billion dead Chestnut trees and a void that could only partially be filled by Oaks and other tree species.

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