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On the 100th anniversary of the last log raft floated on the Upper Mississippi River, scholar and Aldo Leopold biographer Curt Meine reflects upon conservation efforts over the last century and the challenges that lay ahead.

This summer marks an obscure anniversary in the history of conservation. In August 1915 a large raft of white pine lumber was floated down the Upper Mississippi River from Hudson, Wisconsin, to Fort Madison, Iowa. For those on board and those watching from shore, it was a ceremonial occasion, an elegiac gesture. For decades, from Maine to western Ontario, white pine logs and lumber had been transported by water to downstream sawmills and rail towns. In northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan the cut crescendoed in the decades after the Civil War. At the peak of the industry in the 1880s, some 500 rafts of white pine came down the Mississippi each month.  But with the exhaustion of the “inexhaustible” pineries, there was no more big pine to float. The pine boom was over.

And so the lumbermen organized one last raft for nostalgia’s sake. The steamboat Ottumwa Belle, under Captain Walter Hunter, guided the raft around the great river’s bends.  At Albany, Illinois, it paused to take aboard 93-year-old Stephen Beck Hanks, famed riverman and cousin to Abraham Lincoln. In 1843 Hanks had guided the first raft of white pine logs downstream, from the St. Croix River pinery at Stillwater down to St. Louis. In the words of river historian Calvin Fremling, “Hanks has seen the whole thing—the beginning, the culmination, the end—all in one man’s lifetime.”

The Ottumwa Belle and lumber raft at Davenport, Iowa,  August 20, 1915   Source:  Putnam Museum, Davenport IA  http://www.umvphotoarchive.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/putnm/id/499/rec/8

The Ottumwa Belle and lumber raft at Davenport, Iowa, August 20, 1915
Source: Putnam Museum, Davenport, IA

As that final raft slipped downriver, it left in its symbolic wake a region of ruin: some 50 million acres of cutover and burned-over stump fields; soils sterilized by fire and eroded into gullies; streambeds and riverways altered by scouring and heavy sediment loads; disrupted and depleted fish and wildlife populations; a scattering of boom-and-bust work camps and abandoned lumber towns; and a legacy of concentrated wealth, political power, and corruption. The very landscape of unsustainability.

The story of the white pine was remarkable but not unique, even in its time. The lumber barons of the Midwest had their equivalents elsewhere:  yellow pine barons in the South; Douglas fir barons in the Northwest; wheat and cattle barons in the Plains; copper and iron barons in the upper Great Lakes; steel barons in the lower Great Lakes; coal barons in Appalachia and Illinois; gold and silver barons in the Rockies and California; oil barons in the newly tapped petroleum districts; and railroad barons tying them all together.

Across the continent the pattern repeated itself, varying by landscape and resource: the alienation and removal of Native American people; an advance wave of speculation and maneuvering; an onrush of hopeful opportunists; the manipulation of laws and courts; the recruitment of cheap, abundant labor; the winnowing of economic winners and losers; the consolidation of wealth into cartels; the channeling of that wealth into political power and authority; a compliant host of publicists and newspapers; the co-opting of the mechanisms of representative government.  And always the same legacy: degraded landscapes and exhausted sources of wealth; communities inflated by the booms and drained by the busts; citizens left to clean up the messes and to create more sustainable places and economies.

And, finally, always, the same question: can democracy find a way out of the crisis, right itself, reclaim some equilibrium between private wealth and commonwealth, between self-interest and the general welfare? Like the other booms, the pine boom yielded immediate prosperity, but at the price of destabilized and distorted ecosystems, social systems, and political systems. All too many of those who had reaped the quick profits had scant concern for the vitality and resilience of the forest (or prairie, or river, or range, or fishery) or the health of the democracy that provided their opportunity.  In the absence of economic self-restraint, social constraint became inevitable. In the face of crisis, there was no alternative.  Reckless economics and devastated landscapes will do that to an ideology.

White pine stump and seedlings, Vilas County, Wisconsin. (Photo by author)

White pine stump and seedlings, Vilas County, Wisconsin. (Photo by author)

Now, as the full scope of the climate crisis becomes evident, the question arises again: Can democracy respond? The story of the white pine offers some hope. As the big pine (and redwoods, and passenger pigeons, and bison) dwindled, reformers of varied political backgrounds and stripes found common cause and enacted reforms. We called it conservation. Over time the forests of the Upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes returned as the soils, waters, plants, and animals went about their collective work of self-renewal. That recovery continues, more than a century after the Great Cut. The region has hardly achieved sustainability. There is always some short-term economic fix, some new scheme to begin yet another round of heedless exploitation of the waters, the minerals, the forest. Yet, starting a century ago, citizens overcame political inertia in a way that made long-term positive change possible, and inaugurated the modern search for what George Perkins Marsh called “a wise economy.”

Climate disruption, though, is a crisis of a different order and magnitude. It is not local or regional in scope, but global. It is a crisis, not of a certain stage or kind of economy, but of the entire fossil-fuel-dependent meta-economy that spans the globe, that has been expanding since the dawn of the industrial age, and that actively resists envisioning alternatives to its own continued domination. The resulting concentration of wealth now flows directly toward unprecedented political power. Especially in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, that power has few institutional checks on its momentum or direction. The climate crisis and the democracy crisis are now two names for the same thing.

Just as the Ottumwa Belle’s historic journey signified change in its time, indicators of transformation mark our moment: activists gathering by the thousands to speak out against the epic exploitation of Canada’s tar sands; Pope Francis releasing his encyclical Laudato Si’, defining a moral imperative in the Catholic tradition to conserve “our common home”; international climate policy negotiators making plans to gather in Paris later this year; presidential candidates calibrating their messages and calculating their impact. All, in their way, reveal that the fate of our democracy and the future of our climate are inseparable. If there is any positive side to all this, it is that as we work to address the one, we must inevitably deal with the other.

Curt Meine is senior fellow with the Center for Humans and Nature and the Aldo Leopold Foundation, research associate with the International Crane Foundation, and associate adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is editor of the Library of America collection Aldo Leopold: A Sand County Almanac & Other Writings on Ecology and Conservation (2013). This essay is a contribution to the Center for Humans and Nature’s “Questions for a Resilient Future” series, “Can democracy in crisis deal with the climate crisis?”

Sources

Blair, Walter A.  A Raft Pilot’s Log:  A History of the Great Rafting Industry on the Upper Mississippi, 1840-1915 (Cleveland:  Arthur H. Clark Company, 1930).

Fremling, Calvin R.  Immortal River:  The Upper Mississippi in Ancient and Modern Times (Madison:  University of Wisconsin Press, 2005).

Jones, Joseph J. “Transforming the Cutover article: The Establishment of National Forests in Northern Michigan,” Forest History Today 17 (Spring/Fall 2011): 48-55.

“Last Raft Leaves Hudson.”  Duluth Evening Herald (23 August 1915).

Marsh, George Perkins. Man and Nature or, The Earth as Modified by Human Action.  2003 edition by David Lowenthal, with a new introduction by David Lowenthal and a forward by William Cronon (Seattle:  University of Washington Press, 2003).

Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive.  Putnam Museum.  Davenport, Iowa.  http://www.umvphotoarchive.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/putnm

Williams, Michael.  Americans and Their Forests:  A Historical Geography (Cambridge, U.K.:  Cambridge University Press, 1992).

The following is an op-ed piece by FHS staff historian James G. Lewis that appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times on August 9, 2015, in honor of Gifford Pinchot’s 150th birthday on August 11. 

Born just after the guns of the Civil War fell silent, he died the year after the first atomic bomb was dropped. He was, in his own words, a “governor every now and then” but a forester all the time. Indeed, Gifford Pinchot, born 150 years ago on Aug. 11, served two terms as Pennsylvania governor but is best known as the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service (established 1905), which today manages 192 million acres. He also created the Society of American Foresters (1900), the organization that oversees his chosen profession, and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (1900), the oldest forestry school in America. And just south of Asheville, in the Pisgah National Forest, is the Cradle of Forestry in America, both of which exist in part because of him.

But perhaps his greatest legacy is his prescient call, made 75 years ago, for conservation as the foundation for permanent peace.

GP portrait

Gifford Pinchot during his tenure as Forest Service chief.

When Pinchot enrolled at Yale College in 1885, his father encouraged him to pursue forestry. It was a radical idea. The United States had no forestry school, no working foresters, no land being managed on scientific principles. To become a forester, in 1889 Pinchot traveled to Europe. There he met Sir Dietrich Brandis, who was leading British forestry students on tours of sustainably managed forests in Germany. The best way to introduce forestry to the United States, Brandis told him, was to demonstrate that scientific forest management could earn a private landowner a steady income.

Pinchot came home in 1890 full of ideas but few job prospects. Through family connections, he learned of George Vanderbilt’s great undertaking in Asheville. Vanderbilt hired him to be his estate’s—and thus the nation’s—first working forester. When some of Pinchot’s employees began asking why he did things a certain way, like selecting only some trees to cut instead of cutting them all, he decided to teach them in the evenings.

Pinchot didn’t have the temperament to be a teacher, and the classes, such as they were, didn’t last. But fortunately for America, his forestry exhibit at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 and accompanying booklet, Biltmore Forest, attracted wider attention, and he left Biltmore in 1895. On his recommendation, Vanderbilt hired Carl Alwin Schenck, another Brandis protégé, who in 1898 established the Biltmore Forest School, the first forestry school in America.

In 1898, Pinchot was appointed chief of what would become the U.S. Forest Service. He and his friend President Theodore Roosevelt made forestry the focus of a national conservation movement. The two held national and North American conservation conferences before Roosevelt left office in 1909. An international one was scuttled after Pinchot was fired by President Taft in 1910.

A political progressive, Pinchot next plunged into politics. No matter what office he ran for—governor, senator, representative—he advocated for human rights and sustainably managed natural resources. In the 1930s, he watched as Europe and Asia waged wars in large part over access to natural resources. His 1940 observation that “international co-operation in conserving, utilizing, and distributing natural resources to the mutual advantage of all nations might well remove one of the most dangerous of all obstacles to a just and permanent world peace” rings louder even today and is a premise of the just-released UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Although planting a tree or visiting the Cradle of Forestry are good ways to commemorate Gifford Pinchot’s 150th birthday on Aug. 11, the best way to honor America’s first forester is to continue working for conservation and, by extension, world peace.

James Lewis is the staff historian at the Forest History Society in Durham and an executive producer of “First in Forestry: Carl Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School.” The film will have its world premiere at Brevard College on Aug. 30 and its television premiere on UNC-TV in 2016.

Austin Cary, one of the great unsung heroes of American forestry, was born this date in 1865 in East Machias, Maine. A Yankee through and through, he found professional success in the South, eventually becoming known as the “Father of Southern Forestry.” In 1961, twenty-five years after Cary’s passing, his biographer Roy R. White wrote of him:

In contrast with his more renowned contemporaries, Austin Cary was an obscure logging engineer in the Forest Service. Yet the story of the life and work of this latter-day Johnny Appleseed has reached legendary proportions in the southern pine country. Cary, a New England Yankee, dedicated himself to the awesome task of bringing forestry and conservation to a region reluctant to accept, and ill-equipped to practice, these innovations. His success places him in the forefront of noted American foresters and his character warrants a position peculiarly his own.

What makes Cary an intriguing historical figure was his unorthodox, nonconformist approach to life and work. He hailed from an old, well-to-do family whose wealth made him financially independent. By the time he graduated at the head of his class from Bowdoin College, where he majored in science with emphasis on botany and entomology and received the A.B. degree in 1887 and the M.S. in 1890, he was already known as a “lone wolf” comfortable tramping alone in the woods. Despite his refined upbringing, he was called blunt and tactless, and that was by his friends. The “dour New Englander” struggled in several different jobs before finding his niche, in part because of his personality. He moved from industry forester in New England to college instructor (Yale Forest School, 1904-1905; Harvard, 1905-1909), and then in 1910, to logging engineer in the U.S. Forest Service.

Between 1898 and 1910, Cary kept asking for a job with the Forest Service. Chief Gifford Pinchot refused to hire him, though, perhaps because of his personality, more likely because of philosophical differences. Cary strongly believed that private forestry, and providing economic incentive to private land owners to hold land and reforest it, was the nation’s best hope for conserving America’s forests, whereas Pinchot had staked his agency’s position on the federal government dominating land management. Only after Pinchot’s dismissal in 1910 did Cary get hired by the Forest Service—by Pinchot’s replacement and Cary’s former boss at Yale, Henry Graves, who supported Cary’s position to some extent.

Carl Schenck wrote of Austin Cary, here photographed in Florida in 1932, “[He] was as good with the axe as if he were a Canadian lumberjack.” (FHS Photo Collection)

After graduation in 1890, Cary worked on a freelance basis as a land cruiser and surveyor in northern New England, publishing his research findings on tree growth, cutting methods, entomology, and the life cycles of northern Maine trees. His writings gave him some connections and influence in industry. After he traveled abroad several times, particularly to the Black Forest of Germany, to study forestry practices and returned in 1898, he found work with the Berlin Mills Company in New Hampshire as the first company forester in North America. Thus began a lifelong battle to persuade industrial forestland owners to embrace and undertake long-range planning of cutting, planting, and land use. Opposition to such ideas in the North did not deter him, nor did it in the Pacific Northwest, where the Forest Service sent him in 1910. The timber barons had millions of acres of virgin forests they could cut; they saw no incentive to log conservatively and reforest afterwards.

Cary didn’t fit in there and relations deteriorated. Given the choice of assignments in 1917, Cary choose the South, where the Forest Service had little presence and he could create his own program. “Significantly,” White tells us, “he planned an appeal to southern landowners and operators, large and small. It would be necessary, he knew, to influence a people generally hostile to strangers, notoriously averse to change, and shackled by a near-feudal economy.” The “lone wolf” found a home in the southern woods, which were (and still are) largely privately owned and at the time in need of intervention. Though his title was that of logging engineer, he operated as a roving extension forester.

When he arrived, the South’s First Forest was nearly exhausted. “Into the void of southern forestry he intended to introduce forest practices which would assure a second timber growth on the barren, smoldering land,” wrote White, where fire was widely used. The Forest Service campaigned to eliminate it from southern forests; Cary defied them because he saw the ecological role fire played, and instead encouraged landowners to experiment with what are now called prescribed burns. Somehow this direct, straight-shooting Yankee won over Southern landowners. He was not allied with one large company and they didn’t really think of him as Forest Service; they were charmed by “his disrespect for propriety and authority” and his personality. Their conservatism matched his, and he became a staunch defender of their practices and land rights. This culminated in a bitter denunciation of the New Deal–era federal land acquisition in 1935, captured in an open letter to President Franklin Roosevelt that Forest Service officials initially tried to suppress. In the end, they decided it was less painful to suffer his opposition than to silence him, and allowed the letter to be published in the Journal of Forestry. Thumbing his nose at the ultimate authority was his last significant action before he retired in 1935.

“With a new forest turning the South green once again,” he decided to “‘bang around less…live more quietly'” and retired to Maine. He died on April 28, 1936. The well-managed private forestlands in both New England and the South are just a portion of his impressive legacy.

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You can read more about Austin Cary and his legacy in Roy White’s article “Austin Cary: The Father of Southern Forestry,” where all quotes in this article are from, and by exploring the many resources we have on him listed below:

The Austin Cary Photograph Collection contains images taken by Cary between 1918 and 1924 during his early years of working in the South for the Forest Service. The photographs document forestry and turpentining practices in the pine forests of the southeastern United States. We have a finding aid and online photo gallery.

Interviews with several foresters who discuss the positive influence of Cary reside in the “Development of Forestry in the Southern United States Oral History Interview 

A 1959 oral history interview with Charles A. Cary includes discussion of his family background and his uncle Austin Cary.

Some of Cary’s acidic nature is evident in his correspondence with Carl A. Schenck in this Journal of Forest History article.

We also have two folders’ worth of materials in our U.S. Forest Service History Collection.

His papers are housed at the University of Florida.

“How could we lose this forest?” It’s a history mystery we’d been working on for more than two weeks when Molly Tartt, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution in western North Carolina, asked me that in an email. Indeed, how does a 50-acre forest vanish from maps and memory? No one knows where the forest is today, and few have heard of it. It’s more legend than fact at this point, it seems. Molly had been searching for some time and turned to FHS for help, fittingly, just before Independence Day.

A December 1939 newspaper article trumpeted the DAR’s plans for planting a forest to “memorialize the North Carolina patriots who took part in the struggle for independence.” An area that had been heavily logged and burned over would be reforested. The plan called for 60,000 trees to be planted on 25 to 40 acres set aside for the memorial (we believe it to actually be about 50 acres) in an area between Devil’s Courthouse and Mount Hardy Gap. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) announced at around the same time that they intended to plant 125,000 red spruce and balsam trees nearby to commemorate each North Carolina man who served in the Confederate Army. Today there is a wooden sign for that forest at the Mount Hardy overlook.

The DAR memorial forest project was part of a national conservation campaign by the organization leading up to its golden jubilee in 1941. The nation was facing the twin crises of economic depression and ecological disaster. It may have been the Dust Bowl years on the Great Plains, but in the Appalachian Mountains, forests and watersheds were suffering too. Though the land was within the Pisgah National Forest, logging companies had contracts to cut and proceeded to do so via railroad logging. The rail lines extended deep into the mountains, with the labor of men and machines combining to take a toll on the Southern Appalachian forests.

Map showing logging railroads in the early 20th century. From Thomas Fetters, Logging Railroads fo the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains: Volume 1, Cold Mountain, Black Mountain and White Top (2007)

Map showing logging railroads in the early 20th century. The forest is between Devil’s Courthouse and Little Sam Knob. From Thomas Fetters, Logging Railroads of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains: Volume 1, Cold Mountain, Black Mountain and White Top, pg. 227 (2007)

RR logging - Haywood County

Cutover land - Haywood County

Railroad logging, as seen in the top photo, left behind landscapes like in the bottom photo. The slash and debris left by loggers was prone to fire, which happened on the land where DAR dedicated its forest. Both photos were taken somewhere in Haywood County, NC, about 20 years before the DAR plantings. The memorial forest is located in southern Haywood County. (FHS4310 and K_1-166337)

To combat the twin problems of human and environmental poverty, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. Women’s groups of all stripes wanted to do their part, and in the DAR’s case, the jubilee provided motivation. According to the organization’s “DAR Forests” webpage:

In 1939, the President General, Mrs. Henry M. Robert, chose the Penny Pine program as one of her Golden Jubilee National Projects. Each state was to have a memorial forest, beginning in 1939 and culminating in 1941 on the NSDAR 50th Anniversary. Each chapter across the country was to pledge, at the very least, one acre of pine seedlings. Five dollars an acre at a penny each equaled 500 trees. The Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), under the supervision of the U.S. Forestry [sic] Service, would do the actual work of planting and care.

The DAR’s interest in Appalachia’s forests has deep roots, stretching back to the Progressive Era and the debates over the need to protect the headwaters of navigable waterways in the East. According to environmental historian Carolyn Merchant, “In 1909 Mrs. Mathew T. Scott was elected President General of the 77,000 member Daughters of the American Revolution…. Mrs. Scott was an enthusiastic conservationist who encouraged the maintenance of a conservation committee consisting of 100 members representing every state.” (One of the women deeply involved in the conservation committee was Gifford Pinchot‘s mother, Mary.) Under Scott’s leadership, DAR conservation efforts included working towards the “preservation of the Appalachian watersheds, the Palisades, and Niagara Falls.”[1]

By then, forest conservation leaders in North Carolina had been agitating for nearly two decades for state and federal protection of forests and watersheds. They formed the state’s forestry association in 1911, and its forest service in 1915. And although the Weeks Act of 1911 had led to the creation of the Pisgah National Forest in 1916, where the proposed memorial forest would be located, federal management didn’t immediately translate into better environmental conditions. Logging companies carried out their existing contracts and logged what they could—in this case taking “one of the best virgin stands of spruce in the United States,” according to a 1941 newspaper report, and leaving “only a few scattered trees of merchantable species due to clearcutting” and fire—before turning over land to the Forest Service.[2]

In the late 1930s the conservation (and patriotic) ethos of the local and state DAR chapters was strong and members were highly motivated to take action on many fronts. This can be seen through reports about the state chapter in the annual national congress proceedings, beginning the same year President General Robert announced the golden jubilee project.

Proceedings of the Forty-Eighth Continental Congress of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Washington, DC, April 17-21, 1939: “North Carolina—Mrs. Hugh McAllister, Chairman [of conservation]. Chairman urged legislation for eradication of Dutch elm disease and the planting of a memorial forest in Pisgah National Forest in 1940. Thirty acres have already been reforested and 20 acres trimmed. A total of 37,444 trees planted.”(114)

Proceedings of the Forty-Ninth Continental Congress, April 15-19, 1940: “North Carolina—Mrs. Hugh McAllister, reports that Golden Jubilee Forest has been completed and will be dedicated on May 15th. Conservation of holly and other evergreen trees has been urged and 54,331 trees planted.”(120)

Proceedings of the Fiftieth Continental Congress, April 14-19, 1941: “North Carolina—Mrs. Leet A. O’Brien, Chairman. Golden Jubilee Memorial Forest of 50 acres planted and dedicated May 15, 1940; 3,184 other trees were used in beautification projects.”(156)

On May 15, 1940, six months after announcing the planting project, state and national DAR leaders drove out a winding mountain road from Waynesville to the Pisgah National Forest for the dedication ceremony along the Blue Ridge Parkway, then under construction. Mrs. Robert traveled from her home in Maryland to accept the forest on behalf of the national organization, and Mrs. McAllister presided over the proceedings. The only man invited to participate in the program was the U.S. Forest Service’s H. B. Bosworth, Pisgah National Forest’s supervisor, who briefly explained the federal government’s reforestation projects on that windy day. You can see the ladies trying to keep their hats on in the few remaining photos.

Pisgah Forest Supervisor H.B Bosworth addresses the gathering.

Pisgah Forest Supervisor H.B. Bosworth addresses the gathering. The women aren’t saluting; they’re holding on to their hats.

The site was to be marked with a bronze tablet mounted on a large boulder, like in the second photograph down below, and placed at a parking area adjacent to the forest. We don’t know where the above photo is taken, or what road that is above them (or if it’s even a road). A photo from the ceremony (below) shows a sign attached to two poles. We don’t know if the sign is bronze or wood, or if a tablet attached to a rock was ever installed. (Demand for bronze after U.S. entry into World War II meant postponing the casting of the UDC tablet, whose ceremony was two years later, until after the war.) The reforestation effort didn’t begin until 1941, when the seedlings were mature enough to plant.

This is the only photo we have seen showing the sign.

This is the only photo we have seen showing the sign. We’ve recently learned the poles were made of brass.

Illinois Society Daughters of the American Revolution at dedication of D.A.R. Diamond Jubilee cooperative forest plantation on the Shawnee National Forest, Illinois, 1940.  It's assumed that the one in North Carolina would have used a rock of similar size. At far left is Margaret March-Mount, who launched the Penny Pines campaign. (FHS Photo Collection, R9_419109

Illinois Society Daughters of the American Revolution at dedication of D.A.R. Diamond Jubilee cooperative forest plantation on the Shawnee National Forest, Illinois, 1940. Presumably  the one in North Carolina would have used a rock of similar size. At far left is Margaret March-Mount, who launched the Penny Pines campaign. (FHS Photo Collection, R9_419109; USFS photo 419109)

It’s not known when the forest went “missing.” I’ve found only a single mention of the DAR forest after 1942; it was in a 1951 newspaper column “Looking Back Over the Years” that recapped news from ten years before, and it was about planting the seedlings. The UDC forest planted was “misplaced” for a few decades but was relocated and rededicated in 2002.

Research conducted here at FHS and in western North Carolina has narrowed the DAR forest to being around the Devil’s Courthouse overlook at mile marker 422, on the north side (see map). It’s rather ironic that alongside the newspaper article in the April 24, 1941, announcing the arrival of the spruce seedlings for planting is one about the romantic comedy film opening in town that weekend. The now-forgotten film The Man Who Lost Himself centers around a case of mistaken identity and redemption that of course ends happily. If you know anything about this forest that was lost and possibly mistaken for another, please email me at James.Lewis AT foresthistory.org. We’d like to identify this forest and write a happy ending for this story, too.

Sam's Knob Devils Court House map

“X” marks the possible location of the DAR forest. Click on the map to enlarge.

UPDATE: 7/29/2015

Since the original post went up, we received the map below courtesy of Molly Tartt. She received the copy from a former Forest Service employee. The map is dated three days before the newspaper article mentioned above that the seedlings had arrived.

US Forest Service map of the area showing the two memorial plantations, dated April 21, 1941. Click the map to see it enlarged.

US Forest Service map of the area showing the two memorial plantations, dated April 21, 1941. Click the map to see it enlarged. The chain-like symbol with the line through the links represents the county line and the same symbol without the line is either a road or a trail.

Close-up of the area from the same map.

Close-up of the area from the same map. The parkway runs on the south side of both forests.

This satellite photo indicates where the forest is most likely located today by the #1. It's curious that there are other clusters of similar species in the vicinity, as indicated by #2-5.

This satellite photo indicates where the forest is most likely located today (1). It’s curious that there are other clusters of what appear to be similar species in the vicinity, as indicated by numbers 2-5.

Many thanks to Molly Tartt and to the researchers and historians at the DAR library in Washington, DC, for their help and to all who provided photos and other sources.

NOTES

[1] Carolyn Merchant, “Women of the Progressive Conservation Movement: 1900-1916,”  Environmental Review Vol. 8, No. 1: 68-69.

[2] “Patriotic Groups Planting Memorial Forests in Pisgah,” Waynesville Mountaineer, April 24, 1941.

 

Much like today’s celebrities, Hollywood stars of the Reforesters_of_America1920s never missed an opportunity to align themselves with a cause that everyone could get behind. In 1923, industry leaders joined with conservation leaders like Gifford Pinchot and William Greeley to establish the American Reforestation Association, which sought to leverage Hollywood’s PR machinery and the exploding popularity of films (as well as radio and print media) in order to educate Americans about the need for and importance of planting trees. Reforesting America became the obsession of Hollywood royalty like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.

In honor of Arbor Day, we bring you Hollywood’s brightest stars circa 1925. The photos come from a promotional book published by the Association that year. Don’t you love how they dressed for the occasion? I know I put on my Sunday best for gardening.

 

The list below shows all the stars and starlets who appeared in the book.

The list above shows all the stars and starlets who appeared in the book.

To read the original captions, click on the photo.

Douglas Fairbanks plants a tree.

Swashbuckling star of the silver screen Douglas Fairbanks.

ARA_Pickford_th

Mary Pickford, the original “America’s Sweetheart,” was a cofounder of United Artists with Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin.

ARA_Lloyd_th

Comic legend Harold Lloyd, minus his trademark horn-rimmed glasses.

Harriet Hammond (spelled differently in the book) was a Max Sennett Bathing Beauty. You may know her from such films as "Gee Whiz!" and "By Golly."

Harriet Hammond (spelled differently in the book) was a Max Sennett Bathing Beauty. You may know her from such films as “Gee Whiz!” and “By Golly.” I know I always wear furs and heels when planting trees.

ARA_Coogan_th

Jackie Coogan, who later went on to play Uncle Fester on “The Addams Family” television show, was one of the highest paid stars in film in 1923.

Actors from the "Our Gang" series helped out, too. Oh, those Little Rascals!

Actors from the “Our Gang” series helped out, too. Oh, those Little Rascals!

Have you ever been in an urban forest and had the feeling that you were off in the wild because you could no longer hear any cars? Did you find yourself on a river trail and felt as Emerson did when he wrote, “In the woods, is perpetual youth”? Or have you been in state park, turned on a trail and thought, “Geez, I’m in the wilderness!”? I can answer “yes” to all three of those questions. Here in the Durham area we have Duke Forest, the Eno River, and Umstead State Park, respectively, to explore and escape to. I find being in the forest—and what feels like wilderness in this increasingly urbanized region—is often restorative, if not transformative.

Scholars will tell you there are both legal and cultural constructs of wilderness. While Duke Forest, Eno River, and Umstead State Park are not, by legal definition, wilderness, such places do give a sense of being in wilderness. In many ways, it comes down to perception, to paraphrase William Cronon from his essay “The Trouble with Wilderness: Or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” These are places where I, too, experience what he calls “the sacred in nature”—places near my home.

Duke Forest, Umstead Parks, and the Eno River, where this was taken, are very popular with the Durham running community.

Duke Forest, Umstead Park, and the Eno River, where this was taken, are very popular with the Durham running community. During the 2012 Eno River Race, I experienced both “the sacred in nature” and the profane as I forded the cold river.

Wilderness, in all its many constructs, was celebrated around the United States on September 3, 2014, when its supporters commemorated how the legal construct of wilderness has been protecting the cultural one for 50 years. It was on that date in 1964 that President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, which created the National Wilderness Preservation System, the most extensive system of protected wild lands in the United States. Since its signing, the law has continually inspired people to protect wilderness and enjoy it, too.

As someone who studies the history of forests and how humans interact with them for a living, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time in and write about both legally designated wilderness areas in Montana and places that are wilderness areas in all but legal standing, like in Maine. So it’s more than a little ironic that as someone who enjoys running and hiking wooded trails, I’ve not visited any of North Carolina’s twelve federal wilderness areas. But it’s fine with me. I have Duke Forest, the Eno River, and Umstead Park, even though they aren’t on that list. It doesn’t alter my enjoyment of these places—if anything, it makes me appreciate them all the more because they remain wooded oases in this rapidly urbanizing area.

What these local places have in common with federal wilderness areas is how they came to be protected and cherished spaces. The history of each involves someone at some point looking at a landscape, whether it was abandoned agricultural fields in need of restoration (like Umstead) or a forested area in need of protection (like Joyce Kilmer-Slick Rock Wilderness in western North Carolina), and deciding that intervening on behalf of the public was a greater good for the land.

In the case of what would become federal wilderness areas, the effort was led in large part by Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall, and Howard Zahniser, whose story isWild_by_Law_(DVD_cover) the focus of the Academy Award­–nominated documentary film Wild By Law by Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey. All three men were leaders of the Wilderness Society, an organization formed in 1935 by Leopold, Marshall, and six other men to counter the rapid development of national parks for motorized recreation. The Wilderness Society supported projects like the Appalachian Trail but opposed others like the Blue Ridge Parkway because roadways like it were built at the expense of wilderness. (The tension between access to wilderness and protecting its integrity that led to the Society’s establishment is still a divisive issue today.) Zahniser, the executive secretary of the Society from 1945 until his death in 1964, carried forward the torch lit by Leopold and Marshall by writing the Wilderness Act and serving as its strongest advocate. The efforts of these and many other people have led to the protection of countless beautiful areas.

At just under an hour long, Wild By Law is a great introduction to this turning point in American history. Last September, a day after I addressed a community meeting in Wallace, Idaho, where people are struggling to make a living in a region surrounded by wilderness both protected and perceived, I hosted a screening of the film at the Durham County Library and a question-and-answer session. The discussions in both towns reminded me that passion runs high on the issue of wilderness protection, and that the issue is and will remain a complex one, but for good reasons. It means we still care.

I encourage you to seek out this film and any relevant history books (there are too many to list here) and then to reflect on 50 years of the Wilderness Act and all that it has done for what President Johnson called “the total relation between man and the world around him.” I also hope you’ll start visiting wilderness areas—however you wish to define them.

In large measure, wilderness is all a matter of perspective. Where do you think this was taken?

In large measure, wilderness is all a matter of perspective. Where do you think this was taken? On federal, state, or private land? In a designated wilderness area, or in my backyard? Does it matter?

FLO-DA-DVD coverFrederick Law Olmsted: Designing America is the latest film from Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey for PBS’s American Experience series. It is made in the traditional PBS style, perfect for the Olmsted neophyte and ideal for classroom use because of its length (55 minutes) and subject matter. You can stream it from the American Experience website.

That Hott and Garey have made a film about the father of American landscape architecture and his legacy is of little surprise. As pioneers in the film genre of environmental biography, they have been circling Olmsted as a topic for a quarter century.

Their first two films produced for PBS broadly examined the history of wilderness in the United States. The Wilderness Idea: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot and the First Great Battle for Wilderness (1989) an oversimplified story of the “rivalry” between John Muir versus Gifford Pinchot and the debate over constructing the dam in Yosemite Park’s Hetch Hetchy Valley is used to tell the larger history of how the United States came to embrace the idea of preserving wilderness (personified by Muir) as a sanctuary against the progressive, industrial society (as embodied by Pinchot) the country had become by the early 1900s.

Wild by Law: The Rise of Environmentalism and the Creation of the Wilderness Act (1991) picks up where The Wilderness Idea left off and handles the subject in a more nuanced way than does the earlier film. Viewers learn how “wilderness” evolved from a theoretical and philosophical construct, as expressed through the writings and experiences of foresters-turned-wilderness advocates Robert Marshall and Aldo Leopold, to a legal one embodied in the Wilderness Act, which exists largely due to the herculean work of the Wilderness Society’s Howard Zahniser. Since releasing those two films, Hott and Garey have done films on John James Audubon and John Muir, as well as environmental history films on the Adirondacks and two films on Niagara Falls (which Olmsted helped to restore and protect), and other topics of interest to environmental historians.

This new film covers the fascinating life and work of Frederick Law Olmsted. Born in 1822 to a prosperous Connecticut family, Olmsted spent the first 35 years of his life failing upwards. His formal education was limited due to frequent eye problems and he learned mostly through reading in the family’s book collection and observation while wandering the countryside. Oddly, this and some other telling details are not in the film. But we do learn that at 18, he started a series of jobs and unhappily labored as a surveyor, a clerk, and a deckhand on a merchant ship sailing to China (and nearly died) before his father bought him a farm at age 24. For six years he tried his hand at “scientific farming.” He failed at all these things but the experiences would be incorporated into his life’s work.

The film also does not mention that two years before giving up farming, Olmsted traveled to Britain with his brother John and Charles Loring Brace, a close friend who supplemented his travel expenses by writing for newspapers back home. (Brace later entered the ministry and became a social reformer in his own right.) Olmsted was stunned by the level of poverty he saw in England’s cities, and the aristocracy’s indifference to less fortunate humans reinforced his beliefs in democracy and doing what he could to help the poor. He took extensive walking tours of English gardens, public parks, and the countryside, travels that influenced his thinking not only about the purpose of public spaces but how landscapes mechanically functioned. Still thinking like a farmer while traveling, he saw how clayey fields drained and other things that would later find their way into his landscape design work.

He compiled his observations of British society from his journal entries and letters into a book, Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England, which led to his next job. If the film had concerned itself less with Olmsted’s personal life later on (the film’s attempts to humanize Olmsted by documenting the many deaths in his large family feel somewhat forced), more time could have been given over to revealing incidents like his time in England—ones that explain his interest in helping the poor and tell us more about the roots of his egalitarian vision for parks. At any rate, at age 30, Walks and Talks led to an agreement to tour the South for a then-new newspaper called the New York Times, and report on the economic aspect of slavery to their readers. His articles shaped Northern perspective on the matter and the experience turned him into a committed social reformer.

After a series of setbacks in 1857, including losing his job in publishing followed shortly by his beloved brother dying of tuberculosis, Olmsted landed the job of superintendent of New York’s Central Park, then under construction. He joined with architect Calvert Vaux and submitted a design for the park and won the public competition. His life, and America, were never the same after. In time cities would become livable because of protected greens spaces.

New York City as seen from the air, 2011. The green rectangle is Central Park, with ball fields at the left, or northern, end. (Courtesy of the author)

New York City as seen from the air, 2011. The green rectangle is Central Park, with ball fields at the left, or northern, end and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in the middle. (Author’s photo)

At this point, Hott and Garey begin doing what they do best as filmmakers. The film engagingly illustrates and explains the vision Olmsted had for Central Park’s design (and of those he subsequently developed), what made his parks so different from European parks, and also the impact of his parks on American society. The interviews with historians, park enthusiasts, and employees help us better understand the critical role the park still holds in New Yorker’s lives and by extension those of all Americans.

What we learn is that, to Olmsted, Central Park provided a democratic landscape. For the first time, men and women could recreate together—bicycling or ice skating, for example—and without chaperones. Additionally, the landscape allowed different classes and religions to mix. Yet Olmsted sought to impose an upper middle-class vision of behavior on the park’s visitors and hoped to have rules enforced. Rules included not walking on the lawns or using vulgar language, and visitors were expected to dress nicely. Olmsted’s skewed democratic vision is contrasted with footage of present-day Central Park visitors recreating in innumerable ways and a couple of interviews with those who use it. (One can only imagine how he would react to how people dress today while visiting his park.) It is this impulse to influence if not control behavior that gives deeper meaning to the film’s subtitle Designing America.

Central Park on a spring day. On any given day, you'll find people boating, walking, bicycling, rollerblading, playing ball, or picnicking. (Author's photo)

Central Park on a spring day. On any given day, you’ll find people boating, walking, bicycling, rollerblading, playing ball, or picnicking. (Author’s photo)

Thus began an on-again, off-again twenty-year relationship with the park as architect-in-chief as well as superintendent. His work at Central Park was interrupted by the Civil War, during which he established and led the U.S. Sanitation Commission (a precursor to the American Red Cross) for two years before exhausting himself and resigning. His experience with the commission and virtually every subsequent job repeated that of Central Park—“he did brilliant work,” narrator Stockard Channing tells us, “and quarreled bitterly with his superiors.” Actor Campbell Scott acquits himself well as the voice of Olmsted.

Olmsted went west and found work at an enormous mining operation near the Yosemite Valley area in California. He came to serve as head of the Yosemite Park Commission, which prepared a detailed assessment of the recently created national park. In writing the report he expounded upon a connection between land preservation and “the pursuit of happiness” and the role of a republican government in providing “means of protection for all its citizens” in that pursuit from “the selfishness of individuals or combinations of individuals.” His writings from this period provided a firm foundation upon which both the wilderness and conservation movements could and did in part build.

Yosemite Valley, which Olmsted advocated protection of in his report. (Author's photo)

Yosemite Valley, which Olmsted advocated protection of in his report. (Author’s photo)

When the mining company went under a few years later, Olmsted returned to New York at the invitation of his old partner Vaux to plan and build Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Prospect Park differs dramatically in form and in history from Central Park. The latter was confined to a rectangular shape; they had greater freedoms in designing and building Prospect Park. They were told they had unlimited funds and few constraints on its shape. Their work touched off an urban park movement. Soon other cities across the country wanted what New York had. Olmsted, Vaux and Company—which opened an office in Manhattan—took on several other commissions, including a new park system in Buffalo, New York.

There, in the booming inland port city, they undertook a very ambitious plan. Instead of converting one location into a park, as the city leaders asked, they developed three separate areas and connected them by parkways—tree-lined boulevards that function like green arteries, connecting three green “hearts,” in this case three distinctive neighborhoods, with each park reflecting the characteristics of the surrounding neighborhoods. With the Buffalo plan, Olmsted moved beyond landscape architecture to, in effect, city planning. The parkway system became the template repeated by Olmsted and competing firms in many other cities, like Boston, Seattle, and Louisville. Interestingly, his attempt at planning an entire city was rejected. Asked by the Northern Pacific Railway to design their West Coast terminus city, Tacoma, Washington, Olmsted laid out a city with streets that followed the contours of the sloping land: it was a city plan “without a straight line or a right angle.” The client wanted a city laid out on the familiar grid system and didn’t accept the plan.

The challenge in designing any of these parks, we learn, is that a landscape architect must take the long view and look far out into the future: “In laying out Central Park, we determined to think of no results to be realized in less than forty years,” wrote Olmsted. Each park’s open space, he felt, must be maintained and the impulse to fill in those spaces guarded against. In nearly every public project, Olmsted’s larger vision of open space would be sacrificed or ignored by impatient or unenlightened commission members in favor of ball fields or golf courses or, as in Boston, a zoo and a hospital.

The other notable point made is that Olmsted did not give us natural landscapes, but artificial ones—ones “every bit as artificial as Disney World,” asserts writer Adam Gopnik in one of the interview clips. According to landscape architect Faye Harwell both Walt Disney and Frederick Olmsted were masters of hiding engineering and “the nasty parts”—the waste management and the traffic management. What Olmsted was doing, Harwell says, was “creating stage sets for human life,” meaning beautiful backdrops and scenery. The point is punctuated by newsreel footage showing a mass wedding in Prospect Park from mid-twentieth century.

What we think is natural is artifice. Olmsted moved rocks and earth to create features like this in Central Park as well as other parks. (Author’s photo)

By age 70, Olmsted had created designs for every space imaginable: parks, gardens, hospitals, the U.S. Capital, and even a world’s fair, the White City at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. One of his last commissions was not for public space but for a private residence. In the early 1890s, millionaire George Vanderbilt was constructing his country home in western North Carolina, the Biltmore Estate. He invited Olmsted to design the gardens and parkland. Olmsted encouraged Vanderbilt to think bigger—and at the same time to give back to his country—by initiating forest management on the exhausted farmland he had purchased. In time, Vanderbilt would own 125,000 of forested acres which became home to America’s first school of forestry, a site now preserved as the Cradle of Forestry in America.

Olmsted, around 1895. Biltmore Forester Carl Schenck described him thus: he was "not merely the great authority on all landscapism and indeed the creator of landscape CARL SCHENCK: (CONT'D) architecture in the U.S.A.; he was also the inspirer of American forestry. And he was more: he was the loveliest and most loveable old man whom I have ever met."

Frederick Olmsted, around 1895. Biltmore Estate Forester Carl Schenck described him thus: He was “not merely the great authority on all landscapism and indeed the creator of landscape architecture in the U.S.A.; he was also the inspirer of American forestry. And he was more: he was the loveliest and most loveable old man whom I have ever met.” (Forest History Society Photo FHS294)

By 1895, dementia had begun to affect Olmsted’s ability to work, so he retired and turned the business over to his sons. His wife cared for him for three years before placing him in McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. Ironically, he had submitted a design plan for the grounds there years before but it was rejected. He died in 1903. Long before then, the film makes amply clear, Frederick Law Olmsted had made parks an essential part of American life and society.

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