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Cradle Of ForestryOn this date in 1895, Carl Schenck arrived from Germany to the United States to replace Gifford Pinchot as forester at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Three days after arriving in New York, Schenck met with Pinchot, then just 29 years old and seemingly without a care in the world. To mark the anniversary, we offer this excerpt from his memoir, Cradle of Forestry: The Biltmore Forest School, 1898-1913In it, Schenck shares an immigrant’s wide-eyed reaction to a bustling New York. The reader also gets a peek into the charmed life of Pinchot, who would later be first chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

On April 5, 1895, I passed the Statue of Liberty and was received in Hoboken at the docks of the North German Lloyd Lines by my friends and cousins, George Merck and his wife, residents of New York since 1893. They were overjoyed at my coming. Their son, George W. Merck, who as I write is a director of the American Forestry Association, was just one year old. I was taken in a horse-drawn cab, with the help of a ferry, to New York and to their residence on Eighty-sixth Street. In the afternoon George Merck drove me in a buggy through Central Park. There were thousands of buggies, and they seemed to me more admirable than any of the trees in the park and more attractive than the entire bank of the Hudson River, including the Grant Memorial. I recall that everybody craned his neck whenever a woman riding on a bicycle was seen—apparently a new sensation for New York in 1895….

On the third day after my arrival in the United States, Pinchot came to the Merck home and picked me up for a day to be spent in New York City. He was good looking. His shining black eyes and black mustache betrayed his French origin….

Gifford Pinchot appealed to me as the most lovable companion I could desire. To begin with, we inspected the city of New York, riding in horsecars, cable cars, and on the new elevated railroad. In those days electric lines did not exist. We visited the American Museum of Natural History, where we saw the Morris K. Jesup collection of native American woods. O Lo! The biggest trees I had seen in the Spessart and int he Black Forest were mere babies when compared to the gigantic dimensions of American trees. In the course of our trip we visited a large store, Rogers Peet Company, where there could be had all and everything that a gentleman might require for society, for business, or for sport. I was amazed when Pinchot selected, without askeing the prices, several sport suits, the finest touring shoes, some tents, and some fishing tackle. Obviously, he was well known at the store. He himself was clad in black, from neck to foot. Apparently he was in mourning; but his cheery eyes were in strict contrast with his mourning attire.

At noon he took me to his home, a patrician house in Gramercy Park. Upon entering, Pinchot introduced me to his father as George Vanderbilt’s new forester and added that he had invited me to have lunch with the family. Much to my astonishment, the elder Pinchot replied, without looking at me and without giving me a hand: “No, it does not suit us today; you have to take him elsewhere.” Undismayed by his father’s brusqueness, Pinchot left the house with me at once and took me to his Yale Club for lunch.

Subsequently Pinchot and I met at various places and for various purposes. Queerly, the task awaiting me at Biltmore was scarcely touched on in our conversations, which were restricted to discussions of hunting and fishing…. Seeing me off at the depot in the evening, Pinchot paid me this compliment: “Dr. Schenck, I believe you are just the right man for the position.” Then he added, “You will be forester and I shall be chief forester during your term of employment.” He had promised to go to Biltmore in the near future and to discuss with me all the problems on the spot. I was happy, indeed, to be able to work under him on the Biltmore Estate and under his responsibility.

Little did Schenck know that his “lovable companion” soon would be trying to undermine Schenck and his Biltmore Forest School, going so far as to  denounce Schenck as an “antichrist.” Want to know more about this bitter rivalry for control of the future of American forestry? Then read Cradle of Forestry today!

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One hundred years ago today, Dr. Carl Schenck, resident forester at George W. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate and founder of the Biltmore Forest School, opened a three-day forestry fair on the Biltmore grounds.  At a time when forestry work in America was still very much in its infancy, this unique fair was designed by Schenck to demonstrate to visitors the accomplishments and possibilities of scientific management and practical forestry techniques.  Schenck’s forest festival also celebrated the 20th anniversary of forest management on the Biltmore estate and the 10th anniversary of the Biltmore Forest School.

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Schenck sent personal letters inviting close to 400 people to the fair, including several senators, governors, and the newly elected president of the U.S., William Howard Taft (for a full look at the text from the invitations, which also included a program of planned events, see this excerpt from Cradle of Forestry in America: The Biltmore Forest School, 1898-1913).  Along with these letters of invitation, Schenck also mailed to each proposed guest a 55-page illustrated booklet, A Forest Fair in the Biltmore Forest, which served as both a guide to the forests at Biltmore as well as a textbook of forestry and conservation practices.  And although no presidents, senators, or governors made an appearance, some 50 to 100 guests, including foresters, lumbermen, furniture manufacturers, botanists, university professors, and more, took part in the events of the fair.

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A group of Forest Fair attendees (from FHS Photo Collection).

The fair’s program, as designed by Schenck, featured three days of activities.  Visitors were given tours of the various forest plantations with Schenck as their educational guide, learning detailed lessons on forestry practices, planting techniques, logging operations, seed regeneration, soil composition, and more.  The fairgoers were also treated to tours of the nationally-famous Biltmore Estate nurseries and herbarium, as well as events such as a Gala Dinner, a fishing and shooting contest, and a possum hunt and barbecue.

Overall the fair was successful in demonstrating the importance of Schenck’s forestry and conservation practices to those in attendance.  Schenck and the fair were highly praised in various newspaper editorials following the fair’s completion.  An article in the Southern Lumberman commented that “this event will mark an epoch in American forestry.”

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Dr. Schenck, at right, greets Fair guests at Biltmore Plaza (from FHS Photo Collection)

The successful nature of the fair unfortunately proved to be the last high point of Schenck’s pioneering forestry work at Biltmore.  The next year, 1909, saw his fallout with Vanderbilt and the end of the original Biltmore Forest School.  Schenck’s many contributions to American forestry, though, have long outlived his time at Biltmore, and his legacy continues to be celebrated today at the Cradle of Forestry in America.

For a great overview of the Fair see Harley E. Jolley’s article from the April 1970 issue of Forest History, “Biltmore Forest Fair, 1908.”

For a look at the Fair through primary source materials, see the FHS Biltmore Forestry Fair Collection, which includes a series of full-text articles from American Lumberman (whose editor attended the fair).  Also see the FHS Biltmore Forest School Images Collection which includes several photos taken at the Fair.

To read the complete first-hand account of Schenck’s time at the Biltmore, see Cradle of Forestry in America: The Biltmore Forest School, 1898-1913.

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On this day in 1964, foresters, government officials, and others gathered near Asheville, North Carolina, at the site of the historic Biltmore Forest School. At this joint annual meeting of the American Forestry Association and the North Carolina Forestry Association, officials laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Forest Service Visitor Information Center, dedicating the Cradle of Forestry in America.

The Cradle of Forestry was envisioned as a unique indoor-outdoor museum that would celebrate the significance of the Pisgah National Forest lands to the history of forestry in the United States.

  • Here, America’s first trained native-born forester, Gifford Pinchot, managed the thousands of forested acres owned by George W. Vanderbilt. Beginning in 1892, Pinchot initiated large-scale scientific forest management practices on the Biltmore and Pisgah lands.
  • Pinchot’s successor, Dr. Carl A. Schenck, opened the first forestry school in America. The Biltmore Forest School operated on the estate from 1898 to 1907.
  • Passed in 1911, the Weeks Law granted the federal government authority to purchase private lands for inclusion in national forests. Following the passage of the Weeks Law, several tracts of Vanderbilt’s land were among the first purchased by the U.S. Forest Service. Incorporating these tracts, a proclamation signed by Woodrow Wilson in 1916 officially established the Pisgah National Forest.

At the cornerstone-laying ceremony, Forest Service Chief Edward P. Cliff delivered remarks, which included a memorandum he drafted for a one-hundred year time capsule. Addressed to the Chief of the Forest Service in 2064, the memorandum provides interesting points to consider:

“I would like to glimpse the technological advances and the wealth of knowledge that you and your colleagues have at your fingertips. I know that it must surpass by far anything we can imagine here in 1964. Yet I am equally sure that you need all of these and more to solve what must be incredibly difficult and complex problems of forest management. . . .

“As a forester, my greatest hope is that in the decades which separate our careers, our people will have proved to be good stewards of our natural resources. It pleases me to think that each generation of foresters during this interval will have been able to build upon the work of their predecessors — just as your generation is benefiting from trees established, protected, and nurtured by us in the mid-Twentieth Century.”

The Forest History Society maintains materials related to this dedication ceremony, including newspaper clippings, event programs, brochures, and artifacts. Cleverly, the Cradle of Forestry planners printed maps and site information on litter bags given to visitors:

Perhaps the most “flavorful” part of the tour involves the description of the Student Quarters:

The materials featured above may be found in our U.S. Forest Service History Collection, under “Forestry Schools/Education: Cradle of Forestry.”

To support further research on the birth of American forestry, the Forest History Society holds several archival and image collections related to the Biltmore School, early foresters, the Forest Service, and lumber companies.  Such collections include:

Additionally, FHS has collaborated with N.C. State University, UNC Asheville, and the Biltmore Estate to present The Rise of American Forestry: From Education to Practice. I suspect Chief Cliff would be impressed by the “technological advances and the wealth of knowledge” at our fingertips.

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