Rocks Fire Not Considered Suspicious

by John Koziol, Union Leader Correspondent

The Rocks

BETHLEHEM — Bethlehem Fire Chief Jack Anderson said the fire that leveled the Tool Building at The Rocks Estate Wednesday evening began accidentally in a lower-level workshop and is not considered suspicious.

Reported around 6 p.m. by Judy Manley, the wife of longtime Rocks Estate manager Nigel Manley, the fire destroyed the L-shaped, three-story, 116-year old Tool Building, which was the North Country conservation and education center for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

It also destroyed several tractors and other farm equipment, the adjacent gift shop in the former electrical building, and Judy Manley’s car.

No one was injured, and the buildings and their contents were insured, said Jack Savage, the Forest Society’s spokesman. Firefighters also saved the Manleys’ onsite residence, which was a dirt driveway’s width away from the blaze that Anderson described as intense and fast.

“I think we were lucky,” said Savage, explaining that the situation would have been much grimmer if firefighters had to contend with the winds that whipped through the area just a night before.

The Forest Society was “very appreciative” of the effort by more than 60 firefighters who came from four communities, Savage said, and of expressions of interest, sympathy and support that have poured in locally and via social media from around the world.

Savage said all other parts of The Rocks are unaffected and remain open, such as the Maple Syrup Museum.

The Forest Society is reaching out to individuals and groups who have booked space in the Tool Building to apprise them of the fire, said Savage, but because the fire knocked out phone and internet lines to The Rocks, anyone who wants to reach The Rocks should do so through e-mail at

Situated on 1,400 acres, The Rocks began life 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 to the Forest Society in 1978, requiring that “there always be a crop in the field.”

For the more than 30 years that Nigel Manley has headed The Rocks, that crop has been Christmas trees, said Savage, 40,000 of which are currently under cultivation.

The Rocks is open year-round, and Thursday it was scheduled to welcome a bus full of visitors, Savage said, noting that the gift shop in the former electrical building had been freshly cleaned in anticipation of their arrival.

Anderson said he had initially hoped to go into the Tool Building to do an internal attack of the fire, but after observing flames licking up the rear wall, he immediately decided to do an external attack only.

“It spread very quickly,” Anderson said, adding that it was fueled by the structure’s heavy timbers. Asked when the fire — which as of 11 a.m. Thursday continued to burn under scattered debris piles — was brought under control, Anderson smiled and replied “this morning.”

Given the cold temperatures Wednesday night, Anderson said he was concerned that firefighters would be slipping on ice, but, luckily, that didn’t happen, The firefighters’ job was made a little more difficult by low water pressure, however, because even though there were hydrants in the immediate area, the immense draw on them reduced the force of the water being directed onto the fire.

Despite that challenge, “everybody did a great job,” said Anderson.

The Forest Society is committed to The Rocks, said Savage, but what won’t be clear for a while is what will happen to the Tool Building site.