BETHLEHEM — A year after a fire destroyed its operations building and a gift shop at The Rocks Estate, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests has said it will renovate the existing Carriage Barn for an estimated $8 million, turning it into a new “Forest Society North” Conservation Center.
On Feb. 13, 2019, Bethlehem Fire Chief Jack Anderson said a fire began accidentally in a lower-level workshop of the 116-year old, multi-story structure known as the Tool Building, which the Forest Society had used as its North Country conservation and education center.
The fire destroyed the Tool Building, consumed the gift shop in the adjacent former electrical building and damaged several tractors, farm equipment and a car.
No one was injured. The property was insured. Firefighters made a heroic effort to prevent the fire from spreading the very short distance to the home of Nigel Manley, who is The Rocks’ longtime manager, said Jack Savage, then the Forest Society’s spokesman.
On Wednesday, Savage, who has since been named president of the Forest Society, said in a prepared statement that the renovation of the Carriage Barn “will give us a home base to expand our work on behalf of New Hampshire forests.”
He said the renovation will “allow us to enhance The Rocks as a popular recreational destination, as a successful Christmas Tree Farm… and a popular place to learn about maple sugaring at the New Hampshire Maple Museum.”
Will Abbott, the Forest Society’s vice president of policy and reservation stewardship and the point person on the Carriage Barn renovation effort, said plans are being finalized with architects and a landscape designer.
“The conceptual plan is to restore and renovate,” Abbott said. “We will restore the landscape so people can experience the incredible views of the mountains from the property.” He said the site of the Tool Building will become an open space for picnics, as access to hiking trails and for hosting special events such as weddings.
Abbott said a nearby residential building known as the Batchelder Cottage, which has been vacant for several years, will be razed.
Once the plans and costs for the Carriage Barn renovation are finalized later this year, the Forest Society will launch a fundraising campaign.
Founded in 1901, the Forest Society is a private, non-profit land trust and forestry organization that holds more than 750 conservation easements in New Hampshire protecting more than 130,000 acres of land. It also owns 190 forest reservations covering 57,000 acres.
Situated on 1,400 acres, The Rocks was built in the late 19th century as the summer home of the Glessner family, whose patriarch, John Jacob Glessner, was a Chicago businessman and co-founder of International Harvester.
The Glessner family donated the entire estate, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, to the Forest Society in 1978, requiring that “there always be a crop in the field.” Under Manley’s tenure, the crop has been Christmas trees. The Rocks has about 40,000 under cultivation.