Early Reforestation Efforts at Rock Lodge in Garrett County

Historic Rock Lodge above devastated forest landscapeAt Rock Lodge in Garrett County occurred some of the earliest efforts by the State Board of Forestry to restore devastated forest landscapes by applying newly developed scientific reforestation practices. Reforestation sought to correct abusive land practices that occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s. By 1906, only thirty percent of Maryland’s original ninety-five percent forested land-base survived.

The 1920s era photographs taken by Fred Besley and his staff published in this article show a crew of men planting tree seedlings at Rock Lodge. These tree seedlings were germinated at the Maryland State Tree Nursery that Besley established in 1914 at College Park, Maryland. Planting crew at Rock Lodge by by K.E. Pfeiffer The staff working at the tree nursery developed innovative techniques to grow large numbers of tree seedlings at economical prices to reforest Maryland.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Rock Lodge, located off Rock Lodge Road near McHenry, Maryland, was a Garrett County landmark. Multimillionaire Franklin Felix Nicola, who made his fortune in the building trade based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, built Rock Lodge in 1919 as a summer resort for his family and friends.

Tree toter at work on Nicola property near Rock Lodge (1920s)  Inspired by nature-based architecture found in the western forest reserves in places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon National Parks, Nicola had his summer retreat built from native Garrett County stone and wood so that the building blended harmoniously with the surrounding landscape. The rustic Rock Lodge, a building designed to appear as if the structure is growing naturally from the ground, seemed to belong to the land just as did the neighboring rocks and trees.

Along with the 1870s structures built in the Adirondack Mountains, Rock Lodge may be included as one of the first to adopt this rustic architectural design on the east coast.

What makes Rock Lodge even more remarkable is that the building was constructed thirteen years before “parkitecture”-like structures fashioned by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were commonly built. The CCC was also influenced by buildings like Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park.

Nicola’s “huge–stone bungalow” with attached twenty-five foot porchThe “primitive” resort contained five bedrooms, each with a bath as well as a living room, kitchen and study. Large fireplaces were located in each bedroom, and in the kitchen and study.

Nicola’s “huge–stone bungalow” also had attached to it a twenty-five foot porch that took advantage of the commanding view to the west of the surrounding landscape that overlooked Cherry Creek.

The Maryland Fish and Game Commission had established a fish hatchery at the head of Cherry Creek before the construction of Rock Lodge.

As an aside, the largest known yellow poplar tree that grew in the area, measuring seven feet in diameter, was located on Meadow Mountain near Nicola’s property.

During the summer months, Nicola served as a Scoutmaster. The local boys in the area gathered at Rock Lodge under Nicola’s guidance when the Boy Scout organization in America was still very young. Here, Nicola taught the boys how to tie knots and led them on outdoor activities that Boy Scouts enjoyed at that time.

Men on horsesIn 1928, Rock Lodge was destroyed by fire during a freak April storm that brought sleet and 22 inches of snow to the area. Because of the snow and ice, emergency firefighting vehicles could not reach the building to put out the fire. Nicola decided to rebuild Rock Lodge just like the original, only a bit larger. Nicola, who lived another ten years after the fire, died on August 18, 1938.

Mr. Nicola’s lodge, as well as the trees that Fred Besley’s crew planted, still survive. Rock Lodge, as well at those trees planted in the 1920s on Nicola’ property, serve as significant monuments representing pioneering “parkitecture” and early on-the-ground efforts to restore the health of Maryland’s forests.


  • Rock Lodge images courtesy of the Garrett County Historical Society
  • Old reforestation images by K.E. Pfeiffer (1922-1926) courtesy of The Maryland Department of Natural Resources


Maryland State Forests and State Parks
Significant Monuments and Landmarks In Garrett County, Maryland
By Offutt Johnson and Champ Zumbrun
July 11, 2013

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