Remembering the Forest Fair, 1908
Written By Joanne O'Sullivan
Statesman! Lumberman! Engineer! Forester! Come! And be welcome!
Come as you are, and take us as we are!
Come! Rejoice with us!
And join us in giving thanks on Thanksgiving Day, 1908.
Dr. Carl Schenck’s Biltmore Forest Fair invitation, 1908
Biltmore forester Dr. Carl Schenck had reason to celebrate in 1908. After 13 years at Biltmore (including 10 years as director the Biltmore Forest School), he had helped to transform what was a barren landscape of overused terrain into America’s first managed forest, a model for the rest of the country. To increase public awareness of the revolutionary achievements on Biltmore’s 100,000-plus acres of forested land, he planned the three-day Biltmore Forest Fair over the Thanksgiving holiday, 1908. “This event will mark an epoch in American forestry,” proclaimed The American Lumberman.
An invitation to the Forest Fair was extended to 400 people, including President-elect William Howard Taft. “You may have heard something of the farms and of the forests found on the Biltmore Estate,” the invitation read. “Now we beg of you: Come and see them for yourself!” Although the president didn’t attend, about 100 people did, including educators, furniture manufacturers, and many timber industry executives from across the US.
Dr. Schenck overlooked no detail in the planning of the festival, including providing advice for attendees on what to wear: “Do not don your best! Select a rough, comfortable suit of
clothes and a pair of shoes in which you may walk a quarter of a mile without the sensation of “walking on a toothache.” In advance of arrival, each guest received a 55-page booklet full of details on how Schenck planted and maintained the forest, including the number of trees planted on various sections of the estate and how much each section cost.
The fair started on Thanksgiving Day, 1908 with a procession of 15 open carriages “decorated in the Biltmore Forest School colors of green and white,” that made its way from the swanky Battery Park Hotel in downtown Asheville to Biltmore Village. Once on the estate, attendees followed their “tireless leader up and down mountain trails” as he “brushed aside apparently impassible thickets.” What he said is lost to time as “the rapid movements of Dr. Schenck and the rustling of innumerable fallen leaves” made it hard to take exact notes. The group inspected tree plantings across the estate, then enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner at the Battery Park Inn during which Schenck led a toast to George Vanderbilt: “a nobly spirited American and as high-principled a man as I ever met.” One attendee reported that the dinner was “in no case indecorous,” but had been “so thorough in a hospitable sense that most of the participants were disinclined to rise at a reasonable early hour” the next day.
On the Friday following Thanksgiving, participants visited the Biltmore herbarium, plant nurseries, dairy, pig farm, and poultry farm, then enjoyed a possum hunt. A gala dinner was held on Friday evening and on Saturday, the group made their way to the lumber camps, enjoyed a fishing and shooting contest, and ended the day on Mt. Pisgah in time for sunset, then spent the night “under the stars” at Buck Spring Lodge. Throughout the Forest Fair, an attendee reported that the weather was “of that kind that which no memory can recall any nearer perfection and the scenery so beautiful that “none left the spot willingly.”
The Biltmore Forest School closed in 1913, but Dr. Schenck’s legacy in Western North Carolina can still be felt today by all those who enjoy the pristine beauty of Pisgah National Forest, the forest he helped to establish.
Images courtesy of The Forest History Society