Thursday, February 14, 2019

Fire destroys two buildings at The Rocks

Tool Building (courtesy Littleton Fire Rescue)

The same view in June 2010

A devastating fire at The Rocks on the evening of Wednesday February 13, 2019, destroyed two century-old historic structures on the property, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.  No one was injured in the fire, and the nearby home of long-time property manager Nigel Manley, escaped damage.  The Rocks, located in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, was the summer estate and working farm of the Glessner family for several generations and since 1978 has been owned and operated by The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF).

Electric Plant in foreground, Tool Building behind to the left
(courtesy Littleton Fire Rescue)

The same view in June 2010

The two structures destroyed were historically known as the Tool Building and the Electric Plant.  The Tool Building served as the North Country Conservation and Education Center for SPNHF, and housed staff offices and a large multi-purpose room used for programs and events.  The Electric Plant functioned as a gift shop.


Tool Building, front, circa 1904

Tool Building, rear, circa 1910

The Tool Building was built to house a variety of power-driven machines used in the production and repair of equipment for the estate.  The large, gable-roofed structure was two stories high on the west front, and three stories on the rear.  It was clad in wood shingles which were stained a dark red, like other buildings on the estate.   An L-shaped wing on the north side of the building functioned primarily as an ice house.  

Ice house, June 2010

On September 12, 1903, Frances Glessner noted in her journal, “we commenced work on the new tool building.”  Work proceeded rapidly, as she noted on October 3rd, “we gave the annual dinner to the men on the place.  The table was set in the new tool building.”  Later that week the exterior was shingled. 

Tool Building, 1905 (Togo the mule in foreground)

The building was the site of numerous social events, one of which was recorded in some detail in a journal entry dated September 18, 1906:
“Friday evening, we gave a party to the working people in the Tool building.  We took everything out and made a little stage.  We hung branches of evergreen in among the iron strips and put two large vases of sun flowers and asparagus fern on each side of the stage.  We took lamps down and put one on each side of the stage and put hanging chimes around from the ceiling.  We asked our people and their wives – and many who have been connected with the place, and many of the neighbors.
“We hired omnibuses to bring them out from town.  There were one hundred and sixty-five here.  Mr. Tramonti (harpist with the Chicago Orchestra) was very nervous but pleased the audience very much.  John introduced him very nicely and the audience was very appreciative and attentive.  After the concert ice cream and cake was served.”

Tool Building in 1978, showing the bay added in 1907 at right

In June 1907, Frances Glessner noted “we commenced to build the addition to the tool building.”   That addition, consisting of one additional bay located at the south end of the building, was constructed to provide a blacksmith shop (used in recent years by a Glessner descendant).  

The upper floor contained a fully equipped woodworking shop with a variety of early equipment, originally belt-driven from a central power source.  A gas pump was installed outside to provide fuel for farm vehicles.


The Electric Building, circa 1910

The Electric Plant stood immediately to the east of the Tool Building and was constructed to house the original power plant for the estate.    Laid out on a T-plan, the plant was a low hip-roofed frame structure with a clerestory at the central roof ridge.  It was clad in the same dark red-stained wood shingles.  

The foundation for the building was set in place in July 1910 as work was underway to electrify the various buildings as noted in this journal entry dated July 16, 1910:
“Some progress has been made on the Cottage improvements, and the electric light work has been started.  The foundations are in for the power building.  Wynne the Chicago electrician began on Wednesday or Thursday and has a good deal of the tool building piped for wiring.”
By August 21st, “the electric and power building is completed except the chimney and the “help” in our different houses have asked for a dance there next Thursday” (which did take place).  Electric was apparently fully functional by September 18th when the first electric lamp was lighted at the Big House (the Glessners’ residence) as an experiment. 

Electric Plant, June 2010

After John Glessner’s death in January 1936, the estate, which had grown to 1,500 acres, was divided equally between his daughter, Frances Glessner Lee, and his daughter-in-law, Alice Hamlin Glessner.  Following Alice’s death, Lee reassembled the estate and continued to operate it as a farm until her death in January 1962.  (Her tax returns each year listed her occupation as “farmer.”).  Lee’s children, John Glessner Lee and Martha Lee Batchelder continued operations of the farm until 1978 when the property was donated to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, of which their grandfather, John J. Glessner, was an early member.  

A stipulation of the gift was that there always be a crop in the field.  The Forest Society noted, “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.”  (Continuing a tradition begun by the Glessners in the 1880s, Glessner House acquires its Christmas tree each year from The Rocks).

The famous Budweiser Clydesdales in front of the Tool Building,
January 2010 (Courtesy of The Rocks Estate)

Glessner House docents in front of the Tool Building, August 2017

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