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.