The story of the agricultural heritage of the Blue Ridge mountains and foothills of North Carolina includes a unique and important chapter that affected the history of land use across the country—the beginning of forest management in America.
That chapter began in 1889 when George W. Vanderbilt began to purchase land near Asheville to build his now-famous Biltmore Estate. The land had been severely denuded and over-farmed and was in dire need of reforestation. On the recommendation of Vanderbilt’s landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, he hired a trained forester, Gifford Pinchot, to become his Forest Manager.
Gifford Pinchot becomes Forest Manager
Pinchot served as Chief Forester at the Biltmore Estate between 1892 and 1895. He later became the Chief of the federal government’s Division of Forestry, today known as the US Forest Service.
Vanderbilt then hired Dr. Carl Schenck, a German with thorough training in scientific forestry, to succeed Pinchot. During his 14-year tenure at Biltmore, Schenck transformed tens of thousands of acres on the estate and in what is now the Pisgah National Forest from depleted farm land into productive forests.
Carl Schenk Founds First School of Forestry
But Schenck did more than manage Biltmore’s forests-he founded the first school of forestry in the country, the Biltmore Forest School. Between its opening in 1898 and closing in 1913, it graduated nearly 400 students with expertise and practical experience in forest management.
Cradle of Forestry in America
Today, visitors to the Blue Ridge mountains and foothills of North Carolina can learn more about this unique aspect of the region’s agricultural heritage at the Cradle of Forestry, near Brevard. This 6,500 acre Historic Site within the Pisgah National Forest was set aside by Congress to commemorate the beginning of forestry conservation in the United States.
The grounds, gardens, and vineyards of Biltmore Estate continue to showcase the long-standing tradition of careful agricultural stewardship that helped lead to the practice of forest conservation throughout the United States.
Click on the link below to hear a Living Traditions Moment about the origins of Forestry in America.