"I'm a history nut," Frank Fogle, who's been a Davey employee for 15 years, tells me, describing how he tracked down his family history and knows his ancestors came from Russia in the late 1800s, and his grandmother was brought to the States by a U.S. colonel in 1954.
Needless to say, this guy knows his history.
But when describing a recent tree pruning job, he says, humbly and curbing his excitement: "It was just a normal day at work."
This about the Stafford Flint Furnace, which has stood just off of a hiking and biking trail in Maryland's Susquehanna State Park, near Stafford Bridge, for more than two centuries.
Not only was the furnace one of the area's first structures, it's all that remains of the once thriving town of Stafford, established in 1749 and destroyed by an ice gorge in 1904.
I stopped in to see Fogle and the three-person crew of Geoff Hayman, Eric Blackledge and Jose Ramos as they spent the day on the site removing overgrown vegetation that had taken root between the bricks and stones. It was like watching an operation on a medical drama where the surgeons hold their breaths with every cut. "We had to be very careful to make precise cuts without tugging, or we could disrupt the mortar between the bricks and negatively impact the structure," Fogle says, finally letting the giddiness over the location show through. "Working in an historic area like this - one of the oldest in the U.S. - it's really incredible."
And then with each cut, they uncovered the historic structure, hidden away for years under the overgrowth.
The Stafford Flint Furnace was built from granite, stone and brick. It's 30 feet high, and the upper section is made of brick and shaped like a beehive. Centuries ago, white flint was quarried north of Stafford and brought to the furnace by wagons or canal. Then it was layered with wood and set afire, the heat driving the water out of the flint, reducing it to pebbles. These remnants were then ground into a fine powder, washed, bagged and sent by canal to Trenton, N.J., where it was used to make porcelain pots, pans and china, according to the Historical Society of Hartford County.
Also in the area, I got to pass through wooded wetlands (I hear an abundance of songbirds play and wildflowers bloom here in the spring) and see the impressive 4,648-foot long, 102-foot high Conowingo Dam. Walking along the stone-dust trail, I imagined the dense canopy of trees that must be present in the summer months. When I was there, trees were clearing out with the onset of fall, but the ground was covered with a pillowy blanket of autumn leaves. And all the while, the Susquehanna River swept majestically by, beckoning me to stop and fish its waters. I didn't have time during this trip, but I'm definitely putting it on my list for a future adventure.
The Stafford Flint Furnace hadn't been touched for years until the Maryland Department of Natural Resources decided to give Davey a call to help restore the treasure. "They called me out of the blue," Fogle says. "When I met with them, I asked, 'Why did you call Davey?' They said, 'We just called the best.' That was great to hear. This is a historical and sensitive project and they knew our experts were up for the challenge. It's just what we do."
So was it really such a "normal day" after all in the midst of this incredible history? Not for me … but Fogle still insists otherwise.
Thanks for the great experience, Frank!