Out of the Woods: The Story of Cornwall's Forests

Cathedral Pines

Cathedral Pines, early 20th century
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

Before 1989, Cathedral Pines was one of the most spectacular old growth pine forests in the Northeast. Early preservationists, who valued the beauty of the forest over the monetary value of timber, protected the pines from logging. Cathedral Pines was a popular tourist attraction by the late 1800s and was featured on numerous postcards in the early 1900s.


No other village in the State has such a treasure in the way of a natural park. Such a dense growth of lofty pines is rarely seen in any part of our country.

~ Theodore S. Gold, History of Cornwall, 1904




Albert Morgan, hand-colored
photograph of the Tree on the Rock, 1933

Courtesy of John E. Calhoun



The Cathedral Pines forest was established between 1770 and 1800. They were part of a thousand acre farm inherited by Major Seth Pierce, who was born in 1785, when the Pines were first taking root.










Cathedral Pines interior, 1914
Courtesy of The Connecticut
Agricultural Experiment Station


Following Pierce’s death in 1881, Frederick Kellogg negotiated the sale of the Pines to John E. Calhoun, who vowed to preserve them as a majestic forest. The Pines were at different times called Calhoun’s Pines and the Calhoun Grove.











Cathedral Pines on slope, 1922
Courtesy of The Connecticut
Agricultural Experiment Station



"I have kept this grove from the destroyer for forty years and but for my full confidence that you propose to preserve it I should not offer [it] for sale…."

~ Frederick Kellogg, writing to John E. Calhoun, 1882











Cathedral Pines at Valley Road, circa 1900
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society



Most Connecticut citizens, when they think of pine trees, visualize a young pine tree of the kind ordinarily seen in nurseries or water company plantations. It will amaze such persons to see what the great pine trees of Connecticut really looked like when the white men first came to this State. The Cathedral Pines of Cornwall offer a unique opportunity in this respect.

~ Hartford Courant, November 9, 1937




Glass plate view of Cathedral Pines, late 19th century
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society




In 1967, the children of John E. Calhoun deeded the 42-acre Cathedral Pines to the Nature Conservancy, which established the forest as a research area protected from human influence in its development. Rather than harvest high quality lumber from felled trees, the Nature Conservancy allows them to decay naturally.








Road through the Pines, early 20th century
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society



Cathedral Pines was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1982; a plaque was mounted near the Tree on the Rock. By 1945, it had become clear that the pines were being slowly replaced by hemlock trees. The slow transformation of the forest from pine to hemlock was sped up dramatically in 1989 by a devastating tornado.








Sign at entrance to Cathedral Pines, 2012
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society



Cathedral Pines, a 42-acre preserve, can be accessed from a small parking area on Essex Hill Road.










Please contact us for permission to use images; higher resolution images available on request.            |          Cornwall Historical Society, 2012