The Life of Dr. Joseph Trimbel Rothrock
Joseph Rothrock was born in 1839. The son of a doctor, Rothrock was often ill as a child and spent much of his time walking outdoors for exercise. He was described as “small in stature, energetic, enthused.” Rothrock developed a love of the outdoors and went on to lead a life of adventure while helping to preserve the forests that he so loved.
In 1862, Rothrock earned a bachelor of science in botany from Harvard University, where he was deeply influenced by renowned botanist Asa Gray. In 1863, Rothrock enlisted in the Union Army and served during the American Civil War. He saw action in Antietam and was seriously wounded at Fredericksburg. When his service ended in June 6, 1864, he was a captain in the 20th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
In 1867, Rothrock received his doctor of medicine from the University of Pennsylvania. He went onto teach botany, and as a surgeon, helped to found Wilkes-Barre Hospital. In 1865 and again in 1873, he served as surgeon and botanist on exploratory expeditions to British Columbia and various wild regions of western North America. From 1867 to 1869, he was professor of botany, and human anatomy and physiology at the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania (now Pennsylvania State University). In 1880, he studied at the University of Strassburg in Germany, specializing in botany.
In 1886, Rothrock was the first president of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association (PFA). This organization formed to promote conservation and supported the creation of many state parks and forests. Throughout his life, Rothrock served in many positions in PFA, often using it as his pulpit “to incite the interest of people throughout the state on forestry–to preserve, protect, and propagate forest.”
In 1895 Rothrock became the Commonwealth’s first commissioner of forestry and began purchasing lands for State Forest Reservations, some parts of these reservations later became state parks. His medical training led him to develop the first informal tuberculosis camp for the fresh-air cure of tuberculosis at Mont Alto State Forest Park. In 1904, Rothrock resigned as commissionor of forestry but served the commission until 1914. Rothrock continued to speak on conserving forests.
“Sixty years ago I walked from Clearfield to St. Marys; thence to Smethport–60 miles, most of the way through glorious white pine and hemlock forests. Now these forests are gone,” said Rothrock in a speech eight years before his death in 1922. Rothrock would be proud to see the forests that today cover Pennsylvania. He certainly would be proud to know that there is a state forest named in his honor, and that he is considered the “Father of Pennsylvania Forestry.”