Vandals damage Hawley historic kiln

  • Photo by Kirby "Lark" Thwing (File Photo)<br/>The Hawley Charcoal Kiln and a talk about its history will be part of the Rocks and Gardens Tour of Hawley on June 28..

    Photo by Kirby "Lark" Thwing (File Photo)
    The Hawley Charcoal Kiln and a talk about its history will be part of the Rocks and Gardens Tour of Hawley on June 28..

  • Photo by Kirby "Lark" Thwing<br/>Three men have been charged in connection with the damage to the historic charcoal kiln in Hawley.

    Photo by Kirby "Lark" Thwing
    Three men have been charged in connection with the damage to the historic charcoal kiln in Hawley.

  • Photo by Kirby "Lark" Thwing (File Photo)<br/>The Hawley Charcoal Kiln and a talk about its history will be part of the Rocks and Gardens Tour of Hawley on June 28..
  • Photo by Kirby "Lark" Thwing<br/>Three men have been charged in connection with the damage to the historic charcoal kiln in Hawley.

HAWLEY — Vandals over the weekend ripped a huge hole in the historic, beehive-shaped charcoal kiln in the Kenneth Dubuque Memorial Forest, causing several thousand dollars worth of damage.

The kiln, built in 1870, is the oldest known flagstone charcoal kiln in New England. It is 25 feet in diameter and 25 feet high, and was designed to hold 35 cords of wood back in the days when cordwood was “baked” into charcoal, for the use of blacksmiths’ forges, or to heat buildings.

But last weekend, a 3- to 4-foot diameter hole was knocked out of one wall, by prying huge stones out — possibly with a tire iron or crowbar, Hawley residents have speculated.

State Police out of the Shelburne barracks were called to the scene on Sunday; they said Monday they are still investigating.

“This is just a really tragic vandalism,” said Kirby “Lark” Thwing, who went to the site on Sunday to see the damage. “Somebody had to really work hard to do this amount of damage.”

The kiln is on the National Registry of Historic Places, and was repaired in the fall of 2011, to stabilize loose stones around the chimney of the structure. The state spent close to $16,000 to repair it, because loosening stones were a public safety issue, according to David Miller, field operations team leader for the Mohawk Trail/Savoy Mountain State Forest complex.

“It’s a beautiful example of a beehive kiln structure,” he said “It is open to anybody to visit,” he said. “There is an interpretive sign, explaining what it was built and used for.”

“It’s really a shame,” he said of the recent damage.

Cox, Root and Thwing say the damage will cost several thousand dollars to repair.

Ironically, Bob Root of Hawley saw signs on Saturday afternoon that someone planned to burn a fire inside the kiln — because a “teepee-sized pile of wood” had been stacked up inside the structure, according to Thwing.

Root said he was walking his dog Saturday at around 5 p.m., and called Hawley Fire Chief Greg Cox after seeing the stack of wood in the kiln. Root said the site, which is on state property, is frequently used for partying by under-age youths.

Root lives near the kiln, and he and his son are constantly cleaning up trash and bottles near the site, he said.

Root said he called Cox; then Cox tried to call officials at the Department of Conservation and Recreation to find out if the town fire department had any jurisdiction over any fires inside the structure.

“Periodically, people will party there,” said Cox. “If we see an outside fire, that’s an illegal burn. But we can’t see from the road if there’s a fire in the kiln. There’s often trash and debris around. I tried to call the DCR, because it’s state property.”

This kiln was built for William O. Bassett, a prosperous farmer and a former town selectman. The interpretive sign says that, in the 1800s, charcoal was a profitable commodity, a fuel source, and used to make potash.

“In 1880 Massachusetts, a bushel of charcoal cost 10 cents. This kiln could produce up to 750 bushels per burn,” says the sign.

Kilns to convert wood into charcoal were more common in the 19th century — before oil and coal, according to Cox, but few were built for permanent use, like the flagstone kiln. “There were as many as six or seven kilns in East Hawley,” said Cox. “The remnants of one or two are still in the potato fields, by Ashfield Road.”

In the early 1900s, the unused kiln was used to house livestock, until the property was purchased by the state in 1957. At that time, the kiln was restored to its original condition. Then, in 1993, it was restored again by contractor Steve Striebel, and Tibetan stonemasons Sonam Lama and Tenzin Norbu.

“Nature, weather and careless vandalism continue to be the main threat to preserving this relic of our past agricultural-industrial heritage,” the sign continues. “Do your part to help protect this site from disappearing.”

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbroncaccio@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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