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Yale School of Forestry Summer Camp at Grey Towers (1900-1926)
"How would you like to be a forester?" James Pinchot asked his son Gifford
just before he started at Yale in 1885. Gifford embraced the idea. Soon after graduation,
he studied forestry in Europe and then became the forester at the Biltmore Estate
in western North Carolina. While there, he tried to teach forestry to his employees
but had little success. He did, however, see the value—and growing need—for Americans
to learn forestry. After leaving the Biltmore, Pinchot turned down offers to establish
forestry schools because he wanted to concentrate on his career. But when he became
chief of the U.S. Division of Forestry (the predecessor to the U.S. Forest Service)
in 1898, he quickly realized that if forestry was to succeed in America, he needed
trained foresters to do the work.
Students surveying at the Yale summer camp.
That same year, two forestry schools opened their doors. Carl Schenck started the
Biltmore Forest School in North Carolina to train the sons of lumbermen and Bernhard
Fernow launched a four-year undergraduate program at Cornell to give a broader forestry
education. The two German foresters brought with them perspectives on forestry that
weren’t necessarily welcomed by American foresters like Gifford Pinchot and Henry
Graves. Pinchot recalled in Breaking New Ground, "We distrusted [Fernow
and Schenck] and their German lack of faith in American forestry. What we wanted
was American foresters trained by Americans in American ways for the work ahead
in American forests."
To train Americans in American ways, the Pinchot family decided at a family meeting
in January 1900 to fund a two-year graduate program of forestry at Yale. In addition
to the money, James Pinchot designated land at Grey Towers for the summer school
site and for study and experiment, and constructed several buildings at the camp
and in town to support the cause. The Milford site served as Yale’s primary summer
preparatory fieldwork location for nearly twenty-six years.
Yale forestry student learning to survey.
Yale closed the Milford camp after 1926, but its impact was felt for years. Approximately
five hundred students spent at least one summer at Grey Towers. Many graduates joined
the Forest Service or became teachers or deans of forestry schools around the country,
and took with them the lessons and philosophy taught at Yale. Countless others worked
in private industry, helping to conserve millions more acres of private lands. In
short, as former school dean James Gustave Speth noted at the school’s centennial,
"The School’s graduates truly made modern forestry in America." And the
first two generations of Yale foresters started their professional training at Milford.
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Brown, Nelson C. "The Cradle of American Forestry Education." Northeastern
Lewis, James G. "The Pinchot Family and the Battle to Establish American Forestry."
Pennsylvania History, Spring 1999.
Macmullen, Edith Nye. "Planting the Seed: The Origins of the Yale Forest School."
Forest History Today, 1999.
Pinchot, James W. "The Yale Summer School of Forestry." World’s Work,
Pinchot, Peter. "Bringing Forestry Back to the First Yale Camp." Yale
F&ES Centennial News, Fall 1999.
U.S. Forest Service, "The Yale School of Forestry." Historic Structure
Report: Grey Towers. FS-327, 1979.
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Pinchot Institute for Conservation