I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the influence of the Yale Forestry School on the open spaces of Connecticut. The more research I do into the history of parks in Connecticut the more I realize what a leader the state was in the conservation movement. A central element that keeps popping up again and again is the early Yale Forestry School. Here, I dig into the alumni and professors who provided the basis for some of the largest forests we enjoy today.
We must start with the driving force at the founding of the Yale Forestry School, Gifford Pinchot. His family endowed the graduate level program at Yale as he was becoming Chief of the United States Forest Service under Theodore Roosevelt. He was also mentored by John ‘Father of the National Parks’ Muir, but the two later became rivals. Pinchot’s focus wasn’t only Connecticut, but the Branford Land Trust has preserved his acreage in our state which is now part of Hoadley Creek Preserve.
Pinchot started the Yale Forestry School with Henry S. Graves who would become both Dean and professor for the school along with James Toumey. Though I haven’t found any land preserved directly by Graves, he assisted his good friend George Dudley Seymour (who’s foundation is responsible for a few state parks) in managing what today is the Nathan Hale State Forest.
James Toumey is one of the saviors of Sleeping Giant originally conceiving the area as a park pre-WWII and started advocating to save it from quarrying in 1915. He assisted Arnold P. Dana in the formation of the Sleeping Giant Park Association in 1924 which acquired much of the area and turned it over to the state.
From the first graduating class of Yale Forestry came George Hewitt Myers who was heir to the Bristol-Myers pharmaceutical fortune. He accumulated land in Union starting in 1909 and turned over his holdings to Yale in 1929. This formed the basis for the current 7,840-acre Yale-Myers Forest in eastern Connecticut.
Austin Hawes was a 1903 graduate of Yale Forestry and went on to become Connecticut State Forester from 1921 to 1944. He was instrumental in establishing Connecticut’s State Forest system and acquired a significant portion of the state’s current acreage during his tenure. I wasn’t able to fully go through his 208-page History of Forestry in Connecticut before publishing this post, so check here for updated notes as I go through.
Frederic C. Walcott and Starling Childs met Gifford Pinchot at Yale in 1909 and immediately began acquiring land in Norfolk and Canaan starting Great Mountain Forest. They regularly received help and advice from Henry Graves. Starling’s son Edward graduated Yale Forestry in 1932 and took over his father’s half interest in the property after he graduated. Edward then purchased Walcott’s stake upon his death in 1948 and added acquisitions over the years until the forest reached its current 6,400-acre size.
James L. Goodwin was a graduate of the Class of 1911. Goodwin started putting his forestry into practice in 1913 at his estate, Pine Acres Farm, in Hampton. Over the next 35 years he increased his holdings to 1,680 acres which today is Goodwin State Forest. He wrote a history of Pine Acres which you can read here, or read my notes here.
A bit of a looser connection, but a massive influence, was Alain and May White. Alain was 2nd President of the Connecticut Forestry Association and thus surrounded by, and friends with, many of the previously mentioned Yale Forestry alumni. Alain and May preserved nearly 9,000 acres that comprise the White Memorial Foundation and are responsible in part for Peoples State Forest, Mohawk State Forest, Kent Falls State Park, Macedonia Brook State Park, Campbell Falls State Park, and portions of the Steep Rock Preserve.
I barely scratched the surface of the connections beyond just acquiring land. I saw several examples of early Yale Forestry alumni managing others’ forests or providing advice on land which is now public parks. The influence stretches beyond Connecticut too, Yale Forestry influenced at a national level. Of the first 10 Chiefs of the United States Forest Service (there have been only 19 total), six have been from the Yale Forestry School. Alumni also took jobs around the country likely influencing conservation efforts wherever they landed.