The Friendly State

The Tar Heel State, The Old North State, The Old Line State, Land of the Longleaf Pine, and on and on. While many of you are probably familiar with these North Carolina nicknames, I’m going to suggest one that I think we need to add: “The Friendly State.” Why you ask? Well, researchers at Cambridge University have determined that our state is one of the “friendliest and most dutiful” in the union (was there really any question about this?). The story, which recently ran in the Raleigh News and Observer, quoted our own governor as saying, “I’m happy to see that others are learning what we have known for a long time — that nothing could be finer than to live in North Carolina.” So true, so true.

Soapboxes And Tree Stumps

On September 15, 2008, the North Carolina Collection Gallery will open “Soapboxes and Tree Stumps: Political Campaigning in North Carolina.” The exhibition will examine 100 years of political campaigning in North Carolina, focusing on significant elections from 1890 to 1990 and what they reveal about the state’s political history. This exhibition will use broadsides, posters, and photographs from the North Carolina Collection to explore the changing nature of campaigning from the nineteenth to the late twentieth centuries. Exhibition highlights include pinback buttons and ribbons from the Lew Powell Memorabilia Collection, as well as several photos and broadsides on loan from the Southern Historical Collection.

University Of North Carolina At Durham?

UNC and Duke partisans shouldn’t be too hard on the two skydivers from Virginia-based Aerial Adventures who recently mistook Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium for Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, eight miles away. After all, they are not the first to have confused the two institutions.

Hired to deliver the game ball for UNC’s August 30th season-opening football contest with McNeese State, the parachutists declined to jump because of bad weather when they passed over Kenan. A few minutes later the clouds broke. The men saw a stadium below, assumed they were again over Kenan, and jumped—to the confusion and then delight of Duke fans gathered for pre-game ceremonies.

Confusing UNC and Duke is simply inconceivable to alumni and fans of the two fierce rivals. But it does occasionally happen and not just among parachutists. Shortly after Caldwell Hall was dedicated on the UNC campus in 1912, the S. H. Kress & Co., published this postcard, which identified the building as being on the University of North Carolina campus—in Durham.

Spittin’ Pretty

I am pleased to see that our colleagues at Duke Homestead State Historic Site are adding 282 spittoons to their collection (read the news article), making it the largest in the United States. Although they have virtually disappeared in modern life, spittoons were ubiquitous in nineteenth and early twentieth century America. In a time when tobacco was regularly chewed by millions, the need for a place to spit was acute, particularly indoors. Whether brass, glass, or porcelain, the spittoon was everywhere. This all reminds me of my own first and last experience with chewing tobacco. I was working in a textile printing plant between college and graduate school. A fellow worker offered me some of his chewing tobacco and, when I told him that I didn’t use it, responded that “it would pay a man who had never had a chew just to try one.” This made sense to me, and for the first few minutes I enjoyed the experience. Unfortunately, things went down hill from there. At the time I really appreciated a place to spit and have had a spot in my heart for spittoons ever since.

Forestry Book

While preparing a short piece on the origins of scientific forestry for the current “This Month in North Carolina History,” I found an interesting and entertaining source in The birth of forestry in America: Biltmore Forest School, 1891-1913 by Carl Schenck. Schenck, a young, university trained German forester, was hired by George Vanderbilt to manage the vast forest lands of Biltmore, in western North Carolina. The birth of forestry in America is a fascinating technical account of the problems Schenck faced at Biltmore as well as an engaging and humorous description of Schenck’s encounter with the English language and American customs. The book reflects both Schenck’s modesty and his sense of humor. Beyond his work as forester for Vanderbilt, Schenck organized the first school for foresters in the United States and influenced a generation of American foresters through his teaching and example.

September 1898: Biltmore Forest School

This Month in North Carolina History

George Washington Vanderbilt’s vision of a country house in the mountImage of Splash Damains of western North Carolina produced Biltmore, the magnificent mansion near Asheville that has become one of the best known tourist attractions in North Carolina. Vanderbilt also planned an estate worthy of the house, ultimately buying more than 120,000 acres of mountain land. He had hired one of the country’s premier landscape architects to lay out the lands and gardens surrounding Biltmore, and, in the same spirit, Vanderbilt wanted his vast forest lands managed by a skilled, professional forester. At the time there were only two trained foresters in the United States, Gifford Pinchot and Bernard Eduard Fernow. Pinchot had prepared preliminary plans for the Biltmore forests but would not take on the permanent job of caring for them. On the recommendation of Pinchot and others, Vanderbilt sought his forester in Europe, offering the position to Carl Alwin Schenck, a native of Darmstadt, Germany, who studied forestry at the Universities of Tubingen and Gissen, receiving his Ph. D. in 1894.

Schenck came to the United States in 1895 and threw himself into the work of organizing and managing the vast forest lands of Biltmore. Schenck supervised a team of rangers and laborers patrolling the forests, cutting trees, building roads, and planting seedlings. Almost from the beginning, however, Schenck also had the help of volunteers, boys from local families who asked to be his “apprentices” to learn scientific forestry. As they traveled by horseback over the mountainous terrain visiting work sites, Schenck explained to the boys what he was doing and why. The number of young men wanting to learn from Schenck steadily increased and led him to formalize the educational process. In September 1898, the Biltmore Forest School opened in abandoned farm buildings on the estate, becoming the first school of forestry in the United States.

Schenck believed in a hands-on approach to the study of forestry. Lectures in the morning by Schenck or visiting experts were followed by afternoons in the forest directly applying what was being taught. Schenck was a firm disciplinarian—he was a reserve officer in the Imperial German Army—whom the boys called “the man who looks like the Kaiser” because of his military bearing and his upturned handlebar moustache. Striding energetically around his classroom or a forest clearing speaking enthusiastically in his strong German accent and followed by his faithful dachshund, Schenck was a figure that his students remembered all their lives with respect and affection.

The pioneering Biltmore Forest School was short-lived, graduating its last students in 1913 when Schenck returned to Europe. By the time it closed, however, schools of forestry had appeared at several American universities and graduates of Biltmore had moved into positions of leadership in government forestry, private forestry, and forestry education throughout the United States.

Biltmore Forest School students in Germany

Carl Alwin Schenck. The Birth of Forestry in America: Biltmore Forest School, 1898-1913. Santa Cruz, CA: Forest History Society, 1974, c. 1955.

Forestry Comes to America. Washington, DC: U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forestry Service, 1971.

“Biltmore Forest School.” Encyclopedia of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2006.

Image Source:
Carl Alwin Schenck. Logging and lumbering; or, Forest utilization. A textbook for forest schools. [Darmstadt, Printed by L.C. Wittich, 1912?]. NC Collection Call Number: C634.9 S32L [splash dam: p. 28; Biltmore Forest students: p. 55.]