Joseph Trimble Rothrock was a man of many talents and titles. During his life he was a Student, Soldier, Professor, Explorer, Forester, Pioneer, Botanist, Physician, Sportsman, Public servant, Husband and a Father.
Joseph was born in McVeytown, Mifflin County Pennsylvania on April 9, 1839, the descendant of immigrants from the Rhine province in Germany. As a youngster his father who was a doctor sent him to live on a farm, Joseph felt it the most valuable part of his early education. He attended Tuscarora Academy of Academia, Juniata County, where at times he walked the forests between his home and the academy. Years later he purchased acres of these forests for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and when the state forests were named, the large block in Licking Creek Valley would be named the Rothrock State Forest.
After attending Freeland Seminary (Ursinus College) in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania he enrolled at Harvard. During the Civil War, Joseph enlisted in Co. D of the 131st Pennsylvania Infantry and became a corporal. After a serious wound at Fredricksburg, he was would meet President Lincoln at an army hospital before he returned home. At home he organized Co. E. of the 20th Calvary and became its captain. In 1862 Jospeh earned a bachelor of science degree in botany from Harvard, where he met the renowned Harvard botanist Asa Gray.
During 1864-65 he studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. 1865-1866 he joined an exploring party going to British Columbia and Alaska for the Western Union Extension Telegraph, for a proposed telegraph line from Russia by way of the Bering Strait. The group endured many hardships, including starvation, cold, and hostile Indians. The description of Alaska’s resources may have contributed to its purchase by the United States.
In 1867 he graduated from the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania and that fall went to the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania State College and was professor of botany and human anatomy and physiology for two years. He also served as sanitary officer and a member of the Board of Internal Government.
Joseph married Martha E. May, daughter of Rev. Addison May of West Chester, Pennsylvania on May 27, 1868 and they moved to Wilkes-Barre where he practiced medicine. There he started the North Mountain School of Physical Education, a boys camp on the shores of Lake Ganoga. In 1873 he gave up his medical practice for botanical research. He accepted an appointment as surgeon and botanist in the expeditions of U.S. Engineers west of the 100th meridian during 1873-74-75 where he described, and named many new botanical specimens. In 1876 he returned to the University of Pennsylvania as professor of botany on the faculty of the auxiliary department of medicine. In 1877 he also became Michaux Lecturer for the promotion of botany and forestry until 1891.
Dr Rothrock went to Germany and enrolled at the University of Strassburg, as a student of the world famous botanist, Debary. During the 1980’s he cruised the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays and wrote a book about the experience in 1884.
As a result of one of his lectures on May 26, 1886, his presentation that something must be done about deforestation resulted in the temporary organization of the Pennsylvania Forestry association. On November 30, 1886 he was elected its first President. With two horses, a buckboard and a camera he traveled the forests and remote areas preaching and showing slides of the deforestation. In 1893 he was appointed by the Governor to a committee to study the resources for the state and report to the legislature in 1895. After the report, the legislature appointed Dr. Rothrock the first Commissioner of Forestry under the Secretary of agriculture.
In 1901 a department of Forestry was established and Dr. Rothrock was appointed head of the department. Mont Alto became a school for training men to tend to the states forest. In 1902 Dr. Rothrock brought tubercular patients there and established a camp for them on the top of the mountain. This became the Mont Alto Sanatorium for tubercular patients, which continued under the Department of Forestry until 1907 when it was turned over to the Department of 1920. On June 2, 1922 he died at the age of 83.
Return to the Joseph Trimble Selection Page