On this day in WNC history: Towering white neoclassical buildings and throngs of presenters greeted guests to Chicago’s “White City” on opening day of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The extravagant , months-long event showcased national progress in sanitation, architecture, arts, industry, and science, while also touting American exceptionalism. Historian Frederick Jackson Turner gave his hastily-prepared “Frontier Theory” speech, Frederick Law Olmsted promoted a “city beautiful” landscape architecture movement, and Frederick Douglass delivered a blistering condemnation of the exclusion of African Americans from planning and representation in the expo. Amid such impactful presentations, a lesser-known forester showed attendees from all over the world the new developments in forestry occurring in WNC.
Gifford Pinchot became forest manager of George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate in late 1891 at the urging of Olmsted, a family friend. While managing and restoring the woods at Biltmore, Pinchot focused on curating the NC forestry exhibit. He collected 100 four-foot specimens of trees native to NC and shipped them via rail to Chicago. He also prepared several photos of his methods to display. On opening day, Pinchot debuted “Biltmore Forest, the Property of Mr. George W. Vanderbilt; An Account of its Treatment and the Results of the First Year’s Work.” Pinchot also spoke about his efforts and delivered a presentation, “The Science of Forestry,” on June 19, alongside other international experts. Learning to conserve the vast Vanderbilt forests while also turning a profit influenced Pinchot’s practices, and he later took these ideas of scientific use and oversight to the USFS, becoming chief in 1905. His “utilitarian” forestry informed the management of early national forests, including those here in WNC.