History: The beehive kiln in the Hawley State Forest is the oldest known flagstone charcoal kiln in New England. From a distance it looks like a giant beehive, but it is actually a hollow dome of carefully dry-laid flat rocks. The kiln was built in 1870 by Albert Dyer of Plainfield for William O. Bassett, who was Hawley’s most successful farmer at the time.
The kiln is 25 feet high, 25 feet in diameter, and holds 25 cords of wood. No doubt large sections of what is now Hawley State Forest were clear-cut to supply wood for this kiln. Wood was carried in through the lower door and stacked as high as a man could reach. Loading was completed through a second higher door located on an embankment at the back of the kiln. After the fire was lit, iron doors sealed the openings. Burning was controlled by means of draft holes around the base which were plugged with bricks. Enough oxygen was allowed in to maintain a low fire that would remove the moisture and combustible gases from the wood, but not burn it completely. The color of the smoke coming from the top would indicate if the fire was burning at the right temperature. Yellow smoke meant that the fire was about to burst into flames and need to be damped down. The fire had to be tended every few hours day and night for the two days it took to burn the wood. Creosote left from this slow burning process still coats the inside walls of the kiln.
Since 1900 the kiln has been used for many purposes including housing pigs and other livestock. In 1957 it was bought by the Department of Environmental Management and restored to its original condition. In 2013, vandals damaged the kiln by knocking a 3-4 foot hole in the wall. Later, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation again restored the kiln.
Directions: Follow the access road that begins just south of the intersection of Plainfield and Ashfield Roads next to the Hawley Fire House and runs west into the Hawley State Forest. Soon after the access road bends to the right the kiln will be on your right.