The Transylvania Times -

By James Lewis
for The Transylvania Times 

Searching For The DAR Memorial Forest – Brevard NC

 

Railroad logging, left behind landscapes similar to the one shown in the photo . The debris left by loggers was prone to fire. The land where DAR dedicated its forest also suffered from fire. Both photos were taken somewhere in Haywood County about 20 years before the DAR plantings. (Courtesy photos)

"How could we lose this forest?"

It's a historical mystery we'd been working on since July 2, when Molly Tartt, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in Western North Carolina, asked me that quetion in an email.

Indeed, how does a 50-acre forest vanish from maps and memory?

Until recently, no one knew where the forest was, and few had heard of the DAR Memorial Forest.

It seems more legend than fact at this point.

Tartt had been searching for some time for information on the forest and turned to the Forest History Society for help, fittingly, right before Independence Day.

A December 1939 newspaper article trumpeted the DAR's plans for planting a forest to "memorialize the North Carolina patriots who took part in the struggle for independence."

An area of forest that had been heavily logged and then burned in 1925 would be reforested.

The article said the plan called for 60,000 trees to be planted on 25 to 40 acres set aside for the memorial. (We believe it's actually about 50 acres.) in an area between the Devil's Courthouse and Mount Hardy Gap on the North side of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) announced around the same time that they intended to plant 125,000 red spruce and balsam trees nearby to commemorate each North Carolina man who served in the Confederate Army.

Today, there is a wooden sign at the Mount Hardy overlook for that forest.

The DAR memorial forest project was part of the national organization's conservation campaign leading up to its Golden Jubilee in 1941.

At the time, the nation was facing the twin crises of economic depression and ecological disaster.

It may have been the "Dust Bowl" years on the Great Plains, but here in the Appalachian Mountains, forests and watersheds were suffering too. Though the site chosen for the planting project was within the Pisgah National Forest, logging companies had contracts to cut timber and proceeded to do so via railroad logging. The rail lines extended deep into the mountains, often following creeks and rivers for easy passage, with men and machines combining to take a toll on the Southern Appalachian forests.

This made Pisgah and other national forests ideal for planting memorial forests.

In 1933, to combat the twin problems of human and environmental poverty, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps.

"Roosevelt's Tree Army," as the Corps was known, would do the planting work under the Forest Service's supervision.

DAR and other women's groups provided the funding for the trees; in the DAR's case, their upcoming 50th anniversary provided the motivation.

According to the national organization's webpage: "In 1939, the President-General, Mrs. Henry M. Robert, chose the Penny Pine program as one of her Golden Jubilee National Projects. Each state was to have a memorial forest, beginning in 1939 and culminating in 1941 on the NSDAR 50th Anniversary.

"Each chapter across the country was to pledge, at the very least, one acre of pine seedlings. Five dollars an acre at a penny each equaled 500 trees."

DAR's interest in Appalachia's forests has deep roots, stretching back to the "Progressive Era" and the debates over the need to protect the headwaters of navigable waterways in the East. According to environmental historian Carolyn Merchant, "In 1909 Mrs. Mathew T. Scott was elected president general of the 77,000 member Daughters of the American Revolution....Mrs. Scott was an enthusiastic conservationist who encouraged the maintenance of a conservation committee consisting of 100 members representing every state."

One of the women deeply involved in the conservation committee was Gifford Pinchot's mother, first forester at the Biltmore Estate and first chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Under Scott's leadership, DAR conservation efforts included working toward the preservation of the Appalachian watersheds, the Palisades along the Hudson River and Niagara Falls.

By then, forest conservation leaders in North Carolina had been agitating for nearly two decades for state and federal protection of forests and watersheds.

They formed the state's forestry association in 1911 and its Forest Service in 1915.

And although the Weeks Act of 1911 resulted in the creation of the Pisgah National Forest in 1916, where the proposed memorial forest would be located, federal management didn't immediately translate into better environmental conditions.

Logging companies carried out their existing contracts and logged what they could-in this case taking "one of the best virgin stands of spruce in the United States," according to a 1941 newspaper report, and leaving "only a few scattered trees of merchantable species due to clearcutting" and fire-before turning over the land to the Forest Service for care and management.

In the late 1930s the conservation and patriotic ethos of the local and state DAR chapters was strong, and members were highly motivated to take action on many fronts. This can be seen through reports about the state chapter in the annual national congress proceedings, beginning the same year Robert announced the Golden Jubilee project.

In 1939, Mrs. Hugh McAllister, chairman of conservation for North Carolina, "urged legislation for eradication of Dutch elm disease and the planting of a memorial forest in Pisgah National Forest in 1940."

The next year it was reported "that Golden Jubilee Forest has been completed and will be dedicated on May 15. "Conservation of holly and other evergreen trees has been urged and 54,331 trees planted."

Then in 1941 it was reported: "North Carolina-Golden Jubilee Memorial Forest of 50 acres planted and dedicated May 15, 1940; 3,184 other trees were used in beautification projects."

On May 15, 1940, six months after announcing the planting project, state and national DAR leaders drove out a winding mountain road from Waynesville to the Pisgah National Forest for the dedication ceremony along the Blue Ridge Parkway, then under construction.

Robert traveled from Maryland to accept the forest on behalf of the national organization, and McAllister presided over the proceedings.

The only man invited to participate in the program was the Pisgah National Forest's supervisor, H. B. Bosworth, who briefly explained the federal government's reforestation projects on a windy day.

In the photo below, readers can see the ladies trying to keep their hats on during the ceremony.

The site was to be marked with a bronze tablet mounted on a large boulder and placed at a parking area adjacent to the forest.

We don't know where the photo showing the ceremony was taken, or what road that is above them (or if it's even a road).

A photo from the ceremony shows a large brass tablet attached to two brass poles.

We don't know if a tablet attached to a rock was ever installed. (Demand for bronze after U.S. entry into World War II meant postponing the casting of the UDC tablet, whose ceremony was in 1943, until after the war.)

The reforestation effort didn't begin until 1941, when the seedlings were mature enough to plant.

It's not known when the forest went "missing," meaning it fell out of communal memory and into neglect.

I've found only a single mention of the DAR forest after 1942; it was in a 1951 newspaper column "Looking Back Over the Years" that recapped news from 10 years before, and it was about planting the seedlings.

The UDC forest planted went "missing" for a few decades but was relocated and rededicated in 2002.

Research conducted at the Forest History Society and in Western North Carolina has narrowed the DAR forest to being opposite the Devil's Courthouse overlook at mile marker 422, on the North side.

It's rather ironic that alongside the newspaper article in the April 24, 1941, announcing the arrival of the spruce seedlings for planting is an article about a romantic comedy film opening in town that weekend. The now-forgotten film "The Man Who Lost Himself" centers on a case of mistaken identity and redemption that, of course, ends happily.

If you know anything about this forest that was "lost" and possibly mistaken for another, email [email protected] tory.org.

We'd like to identify this forest and write a happy ending for this story, too.

(James Lewis is the staff historian at the Forest History Society in Durham, N.C., and the author of 'The Forest Service and The Greatest Good: A Centennial History.'

He is an executive producer of the upcoming documentary First in Forestry: Carl Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School.

The film will have its world premiere at Brevard College on Aug. 30, and its television premiere on UNC-TV in 2016.

 
 

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