Celebrate Ralph Elwood Brock’s Birthday: PA’s First African-American State Forester

Ralph Elwood Brock was born on February 15, 1881 and raised in Pottsville, Schuylkill County. He became the first African-American to become a Graduate Forester of the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy when he graduated in 1906.

He may well have been the first African-American to be educated in forestry in the United States.

He became a student at the PA State Forest Academy, now the Penn State Mont Alto campus in Franklin County, after graduation from the Howard School in Wilmington, DE.

It is believed Brock’s interest in plants was cultivated by his high school principal, a friend of Dr. Joseph Rothrock.

While employed at the former Mont Alto Reserve, now Michaux State Forest, Brock’s passion for forestry grew and he became a student of forestry at the school.

Immediately after graduation from the Academy, Brock was named superintendent of the newly established Mont Alto State Forest Tree Nursery, a position he held from 1906 to 1911. Forestry records indicate the nursery flourished under his direction, and his accomplishments are detailed in early annual reports of the former state Department of Forestry.

He resigned from state service in 1911 to start his own nursery business in the Philadelphia area and did work in New York City. His specialty was estate gardens, orchards and landscaping.

He continued his career as a forester for the rest of his life. He died on Dec. 9, 1959 and is buried in the Chestnut Grove Cemetery, West Chester, Chester County.

In 2000, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources renamed the South Mountain Seed Orchard, long a mainstay of state forest seed and seedling production in the state, the Ralph E. Brock Seed Orchard in a salute to the  Schuylkill County native.

Also in 2000, Brock and his story were included in Earth Day educational materials sent to hundreds of schools across the state to familiarize students with significant environmental leaders in Pennsylvania’s past.

In 2003 the PA Historical and Museum Commission recognized Brock with a state historic marker which stands at the entrance to the Penn State Mont Alto campus.


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[Posted: Feb. 7, 2018]


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