Collection Title: Joseph Trimble Rothrock Collection

Collection Number: 225

Dates of Collection: 1870-1923

Box Numbers: 1-12

RepositoryChester County Historical Society

Project Archivist: Diane P. Rofini


Rothrock, Joseph Trimble (Apr. 9, 1839-June 2, 1922), physician, botanist, forester, was born in McVeytown, Mifflin County, Pa., the son of Dr. Abraham and Phoebe Brinton (Trimble) Rothrock and a descendant of Abraham Rothrock who emigrated from the Palatinate to Berks County, Pa., early in the eighteenth century. Prepared in the village school, Freeland Seminary (now Ursinus College), and Academia, a preparatory school in Juniata County, Joseph entered the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard in 1860. Meanwhile a period spent for the sake of his health as axeman on the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad had given him a keen interest in botany and forestry, and through the kindly interest of William Darlington [q.v.], a distant kinsman, he was accepted by Asa Gray [ q. v. J as a spec i a 1 student and assistant. At the outbreak of the Civil War he enlisted in the 131st Pennsylvania Infantry, and on July 1, 1863, was commissioned captain, 20th Pennsylvania Cavalry. He fought at Antietam and Fredericksburg, where he was wounded. Honorably discharged, June 6, 1864, he returned to Harvard, and received his degree of B.S. in July.

The following winter he spent at the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania, but in 1865-66, under appointment from the Smithsonian Institution, he accompanied the exploring expedition to British Columbia and Alaska headed by Robert Kennicott [q.v.] and Maj. Frank Pope. His plant collections were lost in the Fraser River, but his “Sketch of the Flora of Alaska” was published in the Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1867. He received the degree of M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in that year [1868] and immediately became professor of botany at the Pennsylvania State Agricultural College. In 1869 [1870] he moved to Wilkes-Barre, where he established a medical practice and was instrumental in founding the Wilkes-Barre Hospital, but hard work again undermined his health, and in 1873 he became botanist and surgeon to the government survey in Colorado, New Mexico, and California, under Lieut. G.N. Wheeler. His report (United States Geographical Surveys West of the 100th 2 Meridian, vol. VI, 1878), enumerated and described 1 ,168 species belonging to 637 genera, representing 104 natural orders of plants. The plant genus Rothrockia and at least six species perpetuate his fame as a botanist.

After a year as principal of a young ladies’ academy in Wilkes-Barre, he accepted a post at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was professor of botany from 1877 to 1904 [1876-1891 active duty]. In 1877, he was appointed Michaux lecturer on forestry by the American Philosophical Society. In 1880, he spent nine months as a student at the University of Strassburg. Deeply impressed by the German forest-conservation policies, he came home dedicated to the task of arousing public opinion to the need of protecting the forests. He was one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association and its president in 1886. In 1893, Governor Pattison appointed him to a commission to study the forests of Pennsy 1 van i a; and he was the author of its report. Followirig the submission of this document to the legislature in March 1895 the division of forestry in the state department of agriculture was created, with Rothrock as its first commissioner, and when in 1901 a separate department of forestry was created, he was again the first commissioner. This post he held until 1904, and remained on the advisory board after his retirement. He inaugurated the policy of purchasing lands at the head waters of rivers for flood control, established tree nurseries to facilitate reforesting on both private and public lands, organized the fire wardens, and founded the State Forest School at Mount Alto to train workers in the forest service.

Some of Rothrock’s other interests are suggested by his book, Vacation Cruising on Chesapeake and Delaware~ (1884). In 1880 [1890] he cruised to the Bahamas and West Indies in his yacht “White Cap,” collecting valuable scientific material for the University. As early as 1876, he began to take delicate boys to the woods for camp life, and in time founded the School of Physical Culture in Luzerne County, Pa. In 1902, he opened an informal camp for tubercular patients on the State Forest Reserve near Mount A 1 to; it proved successfu 1 and in · 1907 was put under the newly created state department of health. He married, May 27, 1868 [1869], Martha E. May, daughter of Addison and Elizabeth Shafer May, and they had five children. His associates describe him as a man small in stature, abounding in energy, and with great charm of manner. He wrote of himself in an autobiographical sketch, “I am an Episcopalian, and politically a Republican when my conscience will endure it” (Kelly, post, p. 213). He died at his home in West Chester, Pa., survived by two sons and a daughter. [Biog. and Portrait ~ of Chester County, Pa. ( 1893); autobiog. material in address by Rothrock, Bull. Chester County Hist. Soc., Sept. 27, 1913; “Exercises in Appreciation of Dr. Joseph Trimble Rothrock,” Ibid., Mar. 19, 1914; .8 Tribute to Dr. Joseph Trimble Rothrock, .RY His Friends (1923); H.A. Kelly, Some Am. Medic. Botanists (1914); J.W. Harshberger, The Botanists of Phi la. and Their Work (1899); Who’s Who .iJ:l America, 1922-23; Public Ledger (Phila.), June 3, 1922.] M.P.S.

Collections Scope:

The collection consists of approximately 3,000 letters as well as manuscripts of his lectures, printed articles, scrapbooks, diaries, and newspaper clippings.

Information For Researchers:

  • Acquisition Information:
    Acquired in 1958.

Collection Arrangement:

The collection is divided up into three catagories: personal and family material (1870-1921), Professional interests of JTR (1864-1923), and JTR material in other CCHS collections.

Personal and family material (1870-1921) includes letters, diaries, business papers, and miscellaneous material that relate to JTR’s immediate family and relatives.

Professional interests of JTR (1864-1923) includes letters, manuscript and printed lectures and articles, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, miscellaneous material and material written by others about JTR that relate to his involvement in Pa forestry.

JTR material in other CCHS collection consists of letters, manuscript, printed lectures and articles, newspaper clippings, photographs, miscellaneous material and material written by others about JTR. This material is located in various locations within the library.

Collections Contents: