Out of the Woods: The Story of Cornwall's Forests
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Colliers and the Iron Industry



Rows of cordwood cut by colliers,
Cream Hill, late 19th century

Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

The iron industry was an important part of the local economy in the 19th century. The blast furnaces were fueled by charcoal made from the area trees. The workers who cut down the trees and turned them into charcoal were known as colliers. Large areas of forest were cut down to feed the demand for charcoal, and many areas were clear cut repeatedly, every three to four decades.







A closer view of cordwood cut
by colliers, late 19th century

Collection of Cornwall Historical Society


 

 

In an 1885 report on “Charcoal Manufacture in the Salisbury Iron Region,” it was noted that the iron furnace at Cornwall Bridge (established in 1833) used oak and chestnut wood for making charcoal, while the Kent Iron Company used a more diverse mix of hard and soft woods.

 

 

 

 


A horse-drawn carriage making its way through the remains of a forest cut down by colliers, late 19th century
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

 

 

"…where the plow cannot be used nor cattle fed, forest trees and timber grow luxuriantly. Few places can be found on Cornwall’s mountains where woodsmen and colliers cannot reach the trees with the axe or bring down the timber and fuel."

~ Rev. Timothy Stone, 1840s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Collier chopping wood, late 19th century
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

 

"Cream Hill, before the woodman’s ax was heard there, was covered with lofty trees of various kinds, the surface not being entangled with underbrush, as much of the forest in the town was."

~ Theodore S. Gold, History of Cornwall, 1877

 

 

 

 

 

 


View from Cream Hill, showing few trees left
after the colliers' work, late 19th century

Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

 

 

"I have watched what twenty years can do in my own hill pasture. In 1924, I took a snapshot, looking down across an open fern-and-boulder-strewn pasture slope to the house and barns. Today, from the spot where I stood with my Kodak in 1924, you cannot even see a roof. The pasture has become the kind of dense, poor forest known here-abouts as 'sprout land.' "

~ Lewis Gannett, Cream Hill: Discoveries
of a Week-End Countryman
, 1949

 

 

 

 

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