north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     In developing Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt took the advice of grounds designer Frederick Law Olmsted and hired Gifford Pinchot as his first “forest manager.” After implementing a first-of-its-kind plan for managing Biltmore’s forests, Pinchot left the estate to serve in the U.S. Department of Agriculture as chief of the Forestry Division. In 1895, German forester Dr. Carl A. Schenck (who had studied forestry at the Universities of Tubingen and Gissen) accepted Vanderbilt’s offer to come to North Carolina to succeed Pinchot in managing and restoring his vast woodland properties.

     Schenck oversaw thousands of acres dotted with several hundred houses and abandoned farms. In 1898, he established the Biltmore Forest School, using Vanderbilt’s forests as a campus. Students in Schenck’s twelve-month curriculum split their time between classroom lectures and fieldwork. Combining theory with practice, the students gained experience in the physical side of forestry, including the care of nurseries, transplanting seedlings, timber selection, felling, logging, and sawing. They also studied forest finance and economics, dendrology, botany, fish and game, and the machinery associated with forestry. The campus was located at the site of a sawmill and gristmill formerly owned by Hiram King, a leader of the Pink Beds farming community. Several old mill buildings and a community church building were utilized for school activities.

     Schenck’s operation was quite successful in its first years (despite detractors who espoused forestry theory at the university level). But Schenck had a falling out with Vanderbilt and left the estate in 1909. He established the school’s winter headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany. Schenck struggled to maintain the school as a traveling entity in America, but enrollment dwindled as new forestry schools emerged. Schenck’s final class graduated in 1913, and most of the school’s alumni (who numbered more than 300) became actively employed in their field. Schenck served on the Russian Front as an officer in the German army during World War I. In 1914, Vanderbilt’s widow sold more than 80,000 acres of her holdings to the United States Forest Service. The acquisition was incorporated into the recently established Pisgah National Forest.

     In the early 1960s, Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman toured Pisgah, including the Pink Beds area. Freeman was impressed with the historical role the Biltmore working grounds had played in the national conservation movement. He initiated commemorative efforts that culminated in 1968 with the establishment of the Cradle of Forestry in America. Today, the Cradle is a 6,500-acre historic site within the Pisgah National Forest, mandated by Congress to commemorate the beginning of forestry education and conservation in the United States. The site includes a visitor center, interpretive exhibits, guided tour trails, and restored historic buildings. Biltmore’s remaining forest continues to be managed under the guiding principles pioneered by Olmsted, Pinchot, and Schenck. The Society of American Foresters presents the Carl Alwin Schenck Award each year to recognize outstanding performance in the field of forestry education.

Harley E. Jolley, The Cradle of Forestry in America,” American Forests, n.d.
The Cradle of Forestry in America website:
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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