First forestry school in the USA

Posted by | May 23, 2012

Some of the things I learned at Biltmore would be hard to find in any text book published then or later — things, that as I look back over my 44 years as a forester, have proved fully as potent for good as any of the technical disciplines of the profession.

The good Doctor taught us the value of relaxation in good company, when with song and stein the whole school and faculty would make merry and stretch lusty harmony and a keg of beer well into a starry Saturday night. Such carryings-on made for an espirit de corps and a strong bond of brotherhood that somehow seems to have lasted all thru the decades that have gone by.

He possessed and passed on to us his love of the woods and all that in them is. To hunt and fish, he taught by word and deed, is the especial privilege of the forester and a soothing ungent for a soul often wearied and harassed by over much fire fighting.

He preached that an appreciation of the birds, the beasts and the fishes, the flowers, the glamorous smells of bay swamps and spruce thickets and the shape and texture of foliage covered hills were all a part, and often the larger portion of a foresters compensation.

A great forester, a masterful teacher and a strong and lovable character, our good Doctor Schenck can look back from his quiet home in Lindenfels and know that he lives not only in the affectionate hearts of his “boys” but as well in the forestry of America he helped in the borning.

Inman F. Eldredge
from a May 29, 1950 Reunion Speech to the Alumni of Biltmore Forest School, Asheville NC
Biltmore ‘06

In 1895, German forester Dr. Carl A. Schenck accepted George Vanderbilt’s offer to come to North Carolina to manage and restore his vast woodland properties.

Schenck oversaw thousands of acres dotted with several hundred houses and abandoned farms. In 1898, he established the Biltmore Forest School, the first forestry school in the United States, using Vanderbilt’s forests as a campus.

Biltmore Forest School, 1911 sessionPhoto caption reads: “Lecturing at the Fiber Plant. Canton, N.C. 1911. Class is in session for Biltmoreans at the Champion Fibre Company’s plant in Canton, North Carolina, 1911.”

Students in Schenck’s twelve-month curriculum split their time between classroom lectures and fieldwork. Combining theory with practice, the students gained experience in the physical side of forestry, including the care of nurseries, transplanting seedlings, timber selection, felling, logging, and sawing.

They also studied forest finance and economics, dendrology, botany, fish and game, and the machinery associated with forestry. The campus was located at the site of a sawmill and gristmill formerly owned by Hiram King, a leader of the Pink Beds farming community.

Schenck’s operation was quite successful in its first years, but Schenck had a falling out with Vanderbilt and left the estate in 1909. He established the school’s winter headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany. The Biltmore Forestry School was headquartered in the town of Sunburst, N.C. from 1910 to 1913. Sunburst is located on the Pigeon River, just west of Mount Pisgah.

The Champion Fibre Company constructed the village prior to their beginning logging operations in the area. Reuben B. Robertson, manager of the company, offered the use of the facilities to Dr. Schenck and his students. Schenck was particularly excited about the location because it offered the students the opportunity of direct observation of hardwood and spruce forests, logging operations, sawmills under construction, different types of log chutes and flumes, splash dams in operation and an up-to-date pulp mill.

Schenck struggled to maintain the school as a traveling entity in America, but enrollment dwindled as new forestry schools emerged. Schenck’s final class, who numbered more than 300, graduated in 1913. Many became prominent and successful foresters for both federal and state agencies as well as private forest industries.

Sources:
www.biltmore.com/explore/then/forestry.shtml
www.lib.ncsu.edu/specialcollections/forestry/schenck/series_vii/forest_school/school_sunburst/school_sunburst.html
www.ncmarkers.com/Results.aspx?k=Search&ct=btn
www.foresthistory.org/Research/Biltmore_Project/Flowers.pdf

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