Town Diary - May 2001
Flower Walk Along the Buck Trail in American Legion State Forest
Walt Landgraf (center-left) points out the Moosewood Viburnum and explains the walk's theme.
On Saturday, May 5, 2001 a group of approximately 35 people assembled at Matthies Grove in People's Forest in preparation for the annual Flower Walk, led since 1990 by Walt Landgraf, the People's Forest Naturalist. Once the stragglers filed in, and all the walkers had applied bug spray, everyone car-pooled around to the opposite side of the river and parked along West River Road near the head of the Henry R. Buck trail in the American Legion State Forest.
The year's conditions were unfavorable for a stellar flower array, with a spring drought, low humidity, and lots of sun, making the walk's theme of conservation appropriate. Nonetheless, there were still plenty of flowers to see, with the display beginning at the very base of the trail, just beside the road, where Landgraf pointed out the Moosewood Viburnum, also known as a Hobble Bush. Just beyond that, the walkers, attention was directed to the Red Trillium (pictured above), which goes by many other names, such as Stinking Benjamin, Carrion Flower, Text Box: Red TrilliumWakerobin, and Birth Root, names which hint at its unsavory scent and its early use. Because this plant produces estrogen, Native Americans used this plant as a form of birth control. Native American plant use has been a lifelong interest for Landgraf, and he described Native uses for many plants along the trail, along with the biological reasons for these uses. He pointed out, for example, the Trout Lily (or Dog Tooth Violet), whose roots were soaked and applied to festering wounds. This worked because of the plant's ability to kill several varieties of bacteria. Other plants along the trail that had early medicinal uses included Toothwart (or Denterium), which was used to alleviate toothaches and headaches; Wild Ginger, which was used to settle the stomach, lessen gas, and purify the blood; Blood Root, which was used to control infection and is today used in toothpaste (the scientific name is sanguinarine, but it is marketed under several trade names); Touch-Me-Not, whose juice was used as a salve on poison ivy infections; and Hipatica, which stimulates bile production.
Landgraf also indicated several plants along the Buck Trail that were eaten by Native Americans, such as the roots of the Spring Beauty. Further up the trail was Solomon Seal, whose roots were another food source. The Jack-In-The-Pulpit was also eaten, but had to be roasted first. If eaten raw, as early Colonists might have attempted, it would produce a terrible burning through the digestive tract, due to the acid crystals that are neutralized by roasting. Ramp (Allium) has roots similar to scallions.
Further Up the Henry Buck Trail
In addition to flowers used to treat medical problems and flowers used as food, the Buck trail provides an opportunity to view a great variety of flowers for their simple beauty. Some of those included:
Northern White Violet
False Solomon Seal
Foam Flower (a member of the geranium family)
Merry Bell (Bellwort)
Miter's Wort (or Bishop's Cap)
Purple Cohosh (unlike its cousin, the Black Cohosh, the Purple Cohosh is not edible)
Rose Mandarin (Twisted Stalk)
Violets (many varieties, including Sweet White Wood Violet and Smooth Yellow Violet)
Virginia Waterleaf (rare in Connecticut)
White Squirrel Corn (a rare member of the bleeding heart family)
Wood Anemonae (May flower)
Yellow Clintonia (Bead Lily)
With a list like this, it's no surprise that the Buck trail attracts visitors from the Boston Botanical Society, the New York Botanical Society, the New Haven Botanical Society, and the Connecticut Botanical Society.
Dedication of the Henry Buck Trail, May 20, 1935
The Henry R. Buck trail in the American Legion State Forest was dedicated back on May 20, 1935. It was named for Henry Robinson Buck, who was killed in a head-on collision on the east side of Avon Mountain, on Route 44, August 11, 1934 as he traveled toward his Hartford home from business in western Connecticut. Buck was born in Wethersfield on September 14, 1876 and graduated from Yale University with a degree in civil engineering in 1896. He went to work for the City of Hartford, becoming assistant city engineer in 1902. He resigned from the city in June 1905 to enter private practice. By 1909, he was already a senior partner in the firm Buck & Sheldon, which ultimately dissolved in 1928. In 1930, Buck and his son Henry Wolcott Buck formed Henry Robinson Buck, Inc., and engineering firm that primarily engaged in sanitary engineering, surveying, and consulting.
Buck's wide-ranging career earned him the Hartford Courant's epithet, one of the most widely known engineers in the state, upon his death. He worked as a sanitary engineer, designing sewer systems and industrial plants and served on the State Factory Wastes Commission (a precursor to the State Water Commission). While in private practice, he performed a great deal of work for the State of Connecticut. For example, he re-surveyed the state's boundary lines and worked on construction of the State Armory. Buck also worked for years for the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad before the railroad formed its own engineering department in New Haven.
In addition to his more urban engineering projects, Buck pursued an interest in forests and parks. In that realm, he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), a Franklin D. Roosevelt work project that employed young men during the depression in forestry and conservation projects. On April 9. 1933, State Forester Austin F. Hawes (for whom the American Legion State Forest campground is named) appointed Buck to direct the building of roads (called "truck trails") at Connecticut's CCC camps and in several state forests.. During his tenure with the CCC, Buck also designed and constructed the trail in American Legion State Forest that now bears his name. He also donated money to the Peoples Forest Fund.
Henry R. Buck married Mary Ladoyett Wolcott on December 3, 1901. They had three children, Henry Wolcott Buck, who settled in Wethersfield, Robinson D. Buck, who remained in Hartford, and Elisabeth R. Buck Dort, who settled in Washington D.C.
He also served five years with the Connecticut Naval Militia. During his service, he completed a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy during the Spanish-American War.
Buck was active in a great many professional and civic organizations. He represented the American Society of Civil Engineers as state director of the Industrial Preparedness Board. He was an associate member of the Naval Consulting Board in 1915. He served as a director of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a director of American Institute of Consulting Engineers, which he helped found. He served as president of the Connecticut Society of Civil Engineers, vice president of the New England Water Works Association, and treasurer of the Hartford Engineers Club, as well as vice president of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and vice president of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and president of the Board of Park Commissioners. In addition, he was a member of the Automobile Club of Hartford, the Hartford Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, the Hartford Rotary Club, the Masons, the Twentieth Century Club, the University Club of Hartford, the Yale Alumni Association, the Wadsworth Athaneum, the State YMCA, and the Hartford County YMCA. He served as scout commissioner of the Hartford Council in 1924 (which later became the Charter Oak Council Boy Scouts of America) and served as director of Connecticut Junior Achievement, Inc.
His personal interests included mountain climbing, hiking, canoeing, snowshoeing, and collecting bird's eggs, butterflies, and stamps.
For more information on wild plants and their uses:
A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America by Steven Foster and James A. Duke. Houghton Mifflin Co., January 2000 (ISBN 0395988152).
A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America by Lee Allen Peterson and Roger Tory Peterson. Houghton Mifflin Co., September 1, 1999 (ISBN 039592622x).
Native Harvests: American Indian Wild Foods & Recipes by E. Barrie Kavasch. American Indian Archaeological, November 1998 (ISBN 0936322098).
Sources for This Article:
Walt Landgraf (May 5, 2001 and May 22, 2001)
Barkhamsted Heritage: Culture and Industry in a Rural Connecticut Town, Richard G. Wheeler and George Hilton, ed. Barkhamsted Historical Society, Inc., 1975.
The Hartford Courant, Buck Directs Building of Conn. Camps, April 10, 1933.
The Hartford Courant, Henry R. Buck Killed, 4 Others Injured in Avon Mountain Crash, August 12, 1934.
Stone Museum trail name display (based on articles from The Wooden Nutmeg, published by the Connecticut Department of Forestry in the 1930s and 1940s).
back to the Town Diary front page