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The Gospel of Forestry According to The University of the South

A Paper Prepared for the Course

Changes in the Land" December, 1986


Steverson Oden Moffat

then a Junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, Sewanee


Policy Analyst

USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station

Forest Resource Law and Economics

New Orleans, LA 70113

(504) 589-7133 (voice)

(504) 589-3961 (facsimile)

Dr. B.L. Wiggins, Sewanee's new Vice Chancellor, sat quietly in Fulford Hall, reviewing the pages of his report for his upcoming meeting with the University Trustees. As he skimmed the paragraphs, he pondered the future of his small school. The nineteenth century was drawing to a close. In the thirty years since the end of the War Between the States, the remaining founders of the University had struggled build classrooms, dormitories, and a chapel, to assemble a student body, to gain an endowment, and to become self sufficient. They were still struggling.

Dr. Wiggins believed that the forest on the 10,000 acre Domain could provide steady extra income for the school in addition to fuel to warm the University's buildings and homes in the winter. He had heard of new conservative forestry methods, but had no idea how to establish a scientific forest management program in rural middle Tennessee. Not only were there not enough funds to hire a forester, but some University officials believed that there were not enough good trees to justify the effort of developing a management plan. Several of these same officials were urging Wiggins to accept an offer of $2,000.00 for the entire stock of the University's standing timber. Faced with this dilemma, the Vice Chancellor added this paragraph to his report:

"The committee are unwilling to recommend the sale of
any timber upon the University Domain, except fallen timber,
until the services of a competent forester can be secured to
designate in loco the timber which can be cut to advantage.
They, therefore, express the opinion that Mr. Kasserman's
proposal for purchasing the timber within certain limits be
declined." (Vice Chancellor's Report, 1896, p. 29)

He folded the pages neatly, then retired for the evening. As he climbed the stairs, he hoped that a year would be enough time to get things started - - if it was not too late already.

Mr. Kasserman's offer was somewhat of a surprise in itself, since the trees on the Domain were in poor condition. The University had no policy concerning cutting trees or grazing animals on its acres. Lease holders had an open season on the forest all year long and could do just about anything they wanted with the land. Carpenters would "sample" various trees they thought would have good grain, sometimes ruining several before one was selected. Farmers burned parts of the forest to clear land and allowed their livestock to graze freely on the undergrowth. These conditions prevailed on the plateau, while in the coves trees were rotting on the stump from old age. If the University was to capture the maximum monetary value of its forests, as well as protect its valuable timber lands, something would have to be done - - and done quickly (Foley, 1903).

During the year 1897, Vice Chancellor Wiggins searched for a forester to aid the University. He corresponded with Gifford Pinchot during this time, and persuaded him to visit Sewanee. Gifford Pinchot was the only formally educated American forester in the country in the late 1800s. At that time there were no forestry schools in the United States, and Pinchot had pursued his undergraduate forestry studies in France. Upon returning to the United States in 1890, he managed George Vanderbilt's Biltmore forest before moving to New York to start an independent business as a forestry consultant in 1893 (Davis, 1983).

Mr. Pinchot was a busy man, and was unable to travel to Sewanee that year. Perhaps it was the combined work load of the Biltmore forest (he still had an advisory role there), and the fact that he was being considered for the job of Chief of the United States Division of Forestry (Davis, 1983). B. L. Wiggins was also a busy man, and understood the delay. He addressed the 1897 Board of Trustees meeting as follows:

"Mr. Gifford Pinchot, the well-known forester, continues to
disappoint me in the long expected visit to Sewanee, although
through no fault of his, so we are still without expert advice as to
the disposition of our timber and a proper care of our forests."

(Vice Chancellor's Report, 1897, p. 63)·

When the meeting was adjourned, one of Sewanee's more distinguished Trustees, Mr. Silas McBee, took it upon himself to contact Pinchot and bring him to the Domain. Vice Chancellor Wiggins' jubilant report to the Trustees in 1898 informed them that the wait would soon end. Pinchot, now the Chief of the Division of Forestry, was expected to arrive within the week and was almost promising that the Division would " willing to take advisory control of the Domain." (Vice Chancellor's Report, 1898, p. 64) The visit, which included a detailed tour of the Domain and a report to the Trustees, was made by Pinchot free of charge.

It was not simply the goodness of Pinchot's heart that brought him to the small university, but also the causes of the progressive conservation movement which he was helping to direct. He had succeeded Bernhard Eduard Fernhow as Chief of the Division of Forestry and was using the position to popularize the use of conservative forestry practices. "He set out to educate the public and the private forest industry about scientific forest management. For example, to help private owners draw up management plans, he offered the services of federal foresters." (Hays 1959, p. 29). Pinchot saw Sewanee as another opportunity to demonstrate the effects of scientific forestry and to gain support for the conservation movement in the South.

After Pinchot returned to Washington, he contacted Dr. C. A. Schenck, a distinguished forester who also supported the conservation movement, and asked him to write the first land use study for the University. Pinchot could have done much worse. Schenck was one of the first professional German foresters to come to the United States. He started managing the Biltmore Estate's forests in 1898, and founded the first forestry school in America at Biltmore that same year (Davis, 1983).

Dr. Schenck and five of his students visited Sewanee at the end of 1898 and began work on the land use study. The finished report was delivered to Vice Chancellor Wiggins on July 18, 1899. The lengthy, well researched, and informative paper contained 34 typed pages of text, 4 appendices, a map, and plenty of advice. Schenck recommended an increase in fire protection, road construction to make the logging easier and more profitable, division of the Domain into compartments for ease and efficiency in marking and logging, and the fencing of the Domain to deter trespassing and grazing.

Dr. Schenck also recommended cutting in the cove forests to produce 1,500 cords of wood to be used by the University during the winter, and cleaning and replanting the overgrazed and burned woods on the plateau. The long-range plan proposed by Schenck in 1899 called for 500,000 board feet to be cut and sold over a five year period, which hopefully would provide a yearly gross income of $2,295.00 (Schenck, 1899).

Along with the forestry advice, Dr. Schenck also wanted the University to hire a forester. He wished that man to be one of his former students - - either Overton Westfelt Price or Victor B. Fay (Schenck to Wiggins, July 18, 1899). Price was busy in Washington serving as Pinchot's administrative assistant, but Fay was available, and willing to work in return for a small salary, room and board, and the privilege of attending lectures free of charge (Fay to Wiggins, July, 1899).

Unfortunately, a great number of Schenck's suggestions and plans were unacceptable to the University due to Vice Chancellor Wiggin's provisions concerning logging on the Domain.

"I requested Doctor Schenck, in the preparation of his
working plans, to keep in mind the following as the wish
of the University: 1. The University desires to maintain
and improve the stock of timber standing now in the forest.
2. Landscape features will be given the preference within the
park boundary, and in the woods close to the park (the
park being the main campus area). 3. It is desired to supply
the households on the grounds of the University with fire-
wood from the forest. 4. The University is averse to investing
additional capital in the forest at the present time. 5. The
University desires to have a steady source of revenue gradually
increasing in its annual productiveness (sic). 6. Local labor which is
not fully occupied during the winter months is to be given steady
and remunerative employment. 7. The University is willing to
do missionary work and to give object lessons in forestry."

(Vice Chancellor's Report, 1899, p. 96)

Statement four in Wiggins' provisions made it impossible to support Fay, provide fire protection, build roads and fences, and anything else that would require capital outlay by the University. This, in conjunction with a misunderstanding between Dr. Schenck and a University employee made it impossible for any logging to take place before 1900, and strained the relationship between Schenck and Wiggins.

The misunderstanding occurred late in 1899 during one of Dr. Schenck's visits to Sewanee and almost put an end to Schenck's free assistance. Vice Chancellor Wiggins was out of town when the Doctor arrived. The superintendent of buildings and lands, Mr. Colmore, was chosen to accompany Dr. Schenck on his tour of the Domain. In the course of their conversations, Colmore stated that the University could use no more than 400 cords of wood per year; much less than the 1,500 that Wiggins and Schenck agreed upon. The Doctor was greatly upset, since his entire land use study was based on 1,500 cords of wood - - if any other amount was cut, his figures would be incorrect and the plan, in his opinion, would be worthless. Schenck was also disappointed that other portions of his plan (roads, fences, and a forester) would not be implemented.

In a letter to Wiggins sent after his return to Biltmore, he stated "...unless however, I see that the work is done along proper lines, I should not like my so far good name connected with it." (Schenck to Wiggins, Dec. 22, 1899). The Vice Chancellor apologized to Schenck for the misunderstanding, but the delay prevented any logging in 1899.

This incident made Schenck even more adamant that one of his students be the Sewanee forester. "I cannot deny that I am...more strongly impressed than ever with the absurdity of trying any forestry work without having some reliable resident person in exclusive charge of it." (ibid). Wiggins might have agreed, but his hands were tied financially. Gifford Pinchot solved the problem by appointing Overton Westfelt Price to the position of field assistant in charge of forestry in Sewanee. Pinchot agreed with Wiggins that fences and fire watchers were unnecessary, and some of the roads proposed by Schenck were not needed. He felt that logging should begin on the Domain as soon as possible.

The year 1900 was good for Sewanee forestry. In March, Dr. Schenck sent 15,000 white pine seedlings to the University which had been grown from a seed source in Germany. Nursery beds were made for the trees, and they did quite well. Many of them were used in the landscaping adjacent to St. Luke's Hall and in Manigault Park. Overton Price and Mr. Hosmer arrived in Sewanee in May and began marking trees - - 600,000 board feet to be exact (Vice Chancellor's Report 1900). Wiggins made contracts with Harry Parker of Tullahoma and J. H. Collins to cut the timber for $6.50 per thousand board feet. In June, Mr. John Foley replaced Overton Price as field assistant, and remained in that position until 1907.

The record of the September cuttings in Hawkins Cove, written in Foley's own hand, showed a net profit for logs sold to Parker of $133.37; the University's first money from forestry (Foley to Wiggins, Oct. 1, 1900). At the end of the 1900 logging season, the tally was as follows:

"By sale of logs, 437,722 feet 4,091.56
To expenses, cutting and delivering logs 2,691.04
Net profit 1,400.52
From sale of cross ties 166.05
Total Profit 1,566.57"

(Vice Chancellor's Report, 1901, p.68)

The Vice Chancellor was extremely pleased with the results, as were the Trustees. "It is a satisfaction to know that we have an annual income assured us from our timber...the cutting is being done on scientific principles and with a view to propagation." (ibid)

The first year's profits were good, excellent even, but they did not reflect the hard work that went into cutting the wood. Logging on the plateau was a relatively easy task, provided that suitable trees could be found. The best timber was in the coves, but the continuous bluff line of Warren Point sandstone provided 40 to 60 feet of cliff - - a serious obstacle even by modern standards. When they could, Parker and Collins removed the timber from the bottom of the coves by way of the old Cowan road, but more often than not it was necessary to drum the logs.

Trees felled in the coves would be attached to a cable, which, in turn, was attached to a cylinder or drum at the head of a cove. A team of mules or horses hitched to the drum would turn it to draw in the cable. Some of the logging crew would help the log over boulders and other obstacles with cant hooks, then steer it on to a wooden "chute" which rested on the bluff and extended down to the cove slope (Foley, 1903).

Once on the plateau, the logs would be loaded onto wagons and hauled to the sawmill or railroad. The empty wagons would return to the woods, and the process would begin again. The logging in Sewanee continued in this manner throughout the late fall and winter months when the men who comprised the logging crews were not needed for farm work.

The year 1901 was almost the same as the previous season for Sewanee forestry; with total returns down a bit at $1,341.94. (Vice Chancellor's Report, 1902) The Vice Chancellor no longer included the logging report with the building and lands statement, but created the Department of Forestry to cover the cutting, sale, planting, and management of the wooded areas outside the park. John Foley marked the trees to be cut and began work on the Sewanee forestry bulletin that would be published by the U.S. Division of Forestry. Dr. Wiggins attended the Tennessee Forestry Association Meeting in Nashville on November 12, 1901, unofficially representing Pinchot and Price who were busy in Washington (Foley to Wiggins, Nov. 11, 1901).

Gifford Pinchot wrote the Vice Chancellor early in 1902, requesting that he persuade some students to apply for the position of Student Assistant in the U.S. Division of Forestry. He asked that only men interested in making forestry their career apply, since the salary and rewards were small. Only one application was returned, and surprisingly, it belonged to none other than Mr. Colmore (Pinchot to Wiggins, 1902). The Vice Chancellor chose to join a field party for the summer to increase his knowledge of forestry (Pinchot to Wiggins, March 19, 1902). Also in that year John Foley was promoted to the position of Superintendent of Forest Measurements. He continued his work on the bulletin, and was still the Division of Forestry's representative to Sewanee.

By far the best year for the nascent forestry and logging operations on the plateau was 1903. John Foley's bulletin, Conservative Lumbering at Sewanee, Tennessee was off the presses and in the hands of the Vice Chancellor by April, just in time for the meeting of the Trustees. The thirty-five page booklet contained a five color map of the Domain, explained what work had been done, was planned for the future, and how scientific forestry had helped the University. Wiggins was quite pleased with the bulletin and made sure that every Trustee, faculty member, land owner, and interested person in the area received a copy.

Out on the Domain, Mr. A. Mansfield joined Parker and Collins who were cutting trees in Hawkins Cove and on compartments adjacent to Thumping Dick Cove. In addition to running a logging crew, Mansfield also operated a sawmill on University property. Combined sale of cove and plateau timber to these gentlemen was 838,369 board feet at an average of $3.60 per thousand feet, which netted the University $3,026.60. Wiggins also sold all the dead and downed chestnut trees in two of the Domain's compartments to a Mr. Anderson for $200.99 (Wiggins to Anderson. 1903). Wiggins initiated this sale, although he verified the price per cord with Foley before he signed the contract. He was especially pleased with the sale since it also reduced the risk of forest fires.

In that year of great yield for the University, it received its first serious bid to start a forestry school. As early as 1899, Dr. Wiggins had wanted to begin a forestry education program at Sewanee, but Pinchot had advised against it. Pinchot felt that a four year school would not be practical since it would duplicate Schenck's efforts at Biltmore and Fernhow's program at Cornell. Pinchot further cautioned that the chances of finding a qualified instructor were limited. He was however, in favor of a two year school that would send its graduates to complete their education with Schenck and the U. S. Division of Forestry. Pinchot could then insure that a group of young, progressively trained foresters would continue to promote scientific management in the South.

Mr. Percy Brown of the Kirby Lumber Company based in Houston, Texas, wrote the University in 1903, urging Wiggins to begin a forestry school. Mr. Brown had become aware that Bernhard Eduard Fernhow had been forced to close the forestry school at Cornell due to lack of funding. Fernhow founded that school in 1898 (soon after Schenck started the Biltmore) when he was succeeded as Chief of the Division of Forestry by Pinchot. Mr. Brown was convinced that the location of the University, combined with its large Domain, would be an ideal place for a forestry school, and that Fernhow would accept almost any offer Wiggins could make.(Brown to Wiggins, July 21, 1903). The Vice Chancellor assured Brown that he would contact Dr. Fernhow, but was again limited by the University's meager endowment. There simply were not enough funds to hire another professor, and a disappointed Wiggins had to watch his dream for a forestry school fade away.

Comparatively, 1904 was a rather quiet year for the University's forestry department. The loggers had become accustomed to the demands of timber cutting on the Domain, and were working faster and more efficiently than they had in previous years. For the second consecutive season the profits exceeded the three thousand dollar mark. Care was still being taken to ensure that enough seedlings and saplings remained to create a healthy and vigorous forest after the loggers had finished working in a stand.

Late in the year John Foley sent two young foresters, Mr. Mulford and William Buckhout Greeley, to Sewanee to evaluate the progress that had been made. The men arrived without prior notice on Thanksgiving Day, and were given a tour by Dr. Wiggins. The men were impressed with the work, especially the care taken in logging, the fire prevention program, and the numerous "..seedlings that were everywhere in evidence" (Wiggins to Foley, Nov. 26, 1904.).

Greeley went on to do great work in his chosen field. He had been graduated first in his class from the Yale School of Forestry, and was beginning his career with the Division of Forestry in Washington. He would later go on to serve as Chief of the Forest Service from 1920 to 1925, and is considered by some to have been almost as influential as Pinchot in that position (Davis, 1983).

The Vice Chancellor spent the remainder of the year preparing his speech for the Forest Congress which was held in Washington D. C. in January, 1905. The Secretary of Agriculture asked Wiggins to address the Congress concerning "The Attitude of Educational Institutions Towards Forestry" (Vice Chancellor's Report, 1905, p. 95). "On that occasion there were such distinguished speakers as the President of the United States and the French Ambassador" (ibid). Wiggins was honored to attend, and pleased that he could do a favor for Pinchot.

The Forest Congress had been called by Pinchot to rally support for his transfer bill. President Roosevelt had removed a large amount of timber land from the public Domain and created national "Forest Reserves" which were managed by the Department of the Interior. Pinchot felt that the Agriculture Department's Division of Forestry should be in charge of the nation's forest lands, and had been trying to get them placed under the control of the Department of Agriculture. "When an apathetic Congress threatened to block the transfer bill in 1905, Pinchot stepped up his press releases and called a Forest Congress to meet in Washington. Although portrayed as a great landmark in the history of scientific forestry, that meeting was actually a technique to persuade the lawmakers to pass the transfer measure..." (Hays, 1959, PP· 138-139). Pinchot succeeded, and later in that year the Forest Reserves were transferred to the Department of Agriculture, and eventually would become the national forests.

John Foley was busy in various parts of the country that year, but kept in touch with Wiggins through the post. He advised the Vice Chancellor on the growing demand for black gum and black jack oak in the area almost a full year before any offers were received. Logging continued without mishap, and the net profits were good. During this year, the Division of Forestry slowly began to remove itself from its advisory position due to the work load that accompanied the transfer, and to Dr. Wiggins' abilities as a forester.

The years 1906 and 1907 saw the first logging wave in Sewanee wind down. Most of the usable timber had been cut and it was time to let the forest regenerate. Some outside companies had expressed interest in the black gum, but no sale was finalized. John Foley marked his last batch of trees in 1907 prior to retiring from Government service and beginning his own private business.

The Secretary of Agriculture requested that Dr. Wiggins give a brief review of the aid given the University and the outcome of the assistance. The Vice Chancellor complied with the request, and wrote a letter praising the virtues of scientific forestry practices. Here in full is Wiggins' reply, which would lose much by summarizing.

"In 1898 Mr. Gifford Pinchot, forester of the United States
Department of Agriculture, inspected the University Domain and made
with the University one of the agreements which the Bureau of Forestry
has for cooperating with timberland owners in the management of their tracts.
"And what has been the result? I recall quite distinctly that when
a little while previously a lumberman offered $2,000.00 for the major
portion of our timber, there were those in authority who regarded that
sum as a fair valuation. We began operations under the direction of
foresters in 1900, and have cut 3,141,021 board feet of logs, at a net
profit of $12,969.41.
"This has furnished an object lesson for our immediate neighbors
and for representatives of the entire South, who visit our beautiful plateau
in large numbers every summer. They can see and hear of results from the
practice of conservative logging, and readily understand the attitude of the
University of the South.
"I wish to express to the Government, in behalf of the University, my
grateful appreciation for the valuable services rendered, and to assure you
that we are all zealous missionaries preaching everywhere, and at all times, the
Gospel of Forestry."

(Wiggins to the Secretary of Agriculture, April 18, 1907)

So ended the first intensive effort to practice professional forestry and logging on the Domain. The University had accomplished its goals of gaining extra income from its own land holdings and becoming more self sufficient. Gifford Pinchot had created more advocates for scientific forestry methods, as well as doing the work he dearly loved. Vice Chancellor B. L. Wiggins had successfully brought Sewanee into the twentieth century and had guaranteed a healthy forest for the future. Nearly a century later, Dr. Schenck's white pines still grace the landscaping at Manigault Park in Sewanee, and serve as reminders of the early years of foresty at Sewanee.

References Cited

Unpublished Material

The correspondences of John Foley, Gifford Pinchot, CA. Schenck, and B.L. Wiggins. 1898 to 1907. In the Archives of the Jesse Ball Du Pont Library, University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.

Schenck, C. A.. The first working land management plan for the University of the South. 1900. In the Archives of the Jesse Ball Du Pont Library, University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee

Published Material


Davis, Richard, C., 1933 Subject heading in: Encyclopedia of American Forest and Conservation History New York, London, Macmillan Publishing Company.

Foley, John, 1903 Conservative Lumbering at Sewanee Tennessee Washington, D. C., Government Printing Office.

Hays, Samuel P., 1959 Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency. Harvard University Press


The Journals of the Proceedings of the Board of Trustees of the University of the South, 1896 to 1907 University of tile South Press. In the Archives of The University of the South, Jesse Ball Du Pont Library.