Chestnut timber harvested after the blight started, Lake Road, Cornwall Hollow, May 1919
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

Chestnut blight, which is a fungus, was discovered in 1904 at the Bronx Zoo. The Connecticut State Forester found evidence in 1910 that it had reached the state a few years earlier. By 1920, the blight had infected nearly every chestnut tree in Connecticut.

“People who have grown up since 1910 have no conception of the glory of these woods in May in the days when chestnut sprays illuminated the whole forest.”

~ Lewis Gannett, Cream Hill, 1949

Chestnut was a popular wood for building construction and for products such as railroad ties and poles. Diseased trees were cut down and could still be turned into lumber. Cornwall saw a spike in the number of sawmill workers around 1920, largely due to the chestnut blight.

“…the chestnut… reaches about ten feet before it browns and succumbs to the blight of 1904. There are still hulks of chestnut tree trunks stretched across the forest floor or caught in their fall by surrounding limbs.”

~ Eric Sloane, A Reverence for Wood, 1965

Prior to the devastation of the blight, as much as 25% of the Connecticut forests were comprised of chestnut trees. Since then, oak trees have become dominant. Although the fungus can also infect white oak trees, they are more resilient than chestnut trees.