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History - Nathaniel H. Egleston, Second Chief Division of Forestry, 1883-1886

History Home > Leadership Time Line > Egleston

a picture of the Second Chief Division of Forestry, Nathaniel H. Egleston.

Nathaniel Egleston was born into an old New England family in Hartford, Connecticut, on May 7, 1822. A graduate of Yale in 1840 then a D.D. degree from the Yale Divinity School in 1844. After serving as pastor in various churches an New York, Chicago, Madison, and in Massachusetts. Egleston taught at Williams College during 1869, then the next year he founded a select school in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He became a prominent Congregational minister, was one of the founders of the Chicago Theological Seminary, and served as editor of the Congregational Herald.

Egleston developed an interest in country life. He spent much of his free time and interest in small villages and writing. He published a book in 1876 with the title Villages and Village Life. He turned his interests to conserving forests, and wrote many articles about the need for forestry, contributing stories to many magazines on that subject.

Because of his great interests, he was sent as a delegate to the first American Forestry Congress held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in April of 1882. Upon the merger of the American Forestry Association and the American Forestry Congress (second meeting) at Montreal later that same year, Egleston was elected a vice president of the combined organization. President of the new association went to his fellow Massachusetts resident George B. Loring, who was serving as the U.S. Commissioner of Agriculture.

In May 1883, Commissioner Loring appointed Egleston chief of the USDA Division of Forestry. This action was seen by many as an act of favoritism in the corrupt spoils system. (Loring demoted the energetic and prolific Franklin G. Hough, whom he disliked.) Egleston proved to be a weak administrator. Gifford Pinchot was merciless in his later evaluation of him, referring to him in his autobiography Breaking New Ground as “one of those failures in life whom the spoils system is constantly catapulting into responsible positions (Pinchot 1947: 135).”

Conscientious and sincere in promoting forestry, Egleston wrote a number of popular pamphlets and articles on the subject for such magazines as Popular Science Monthly, Harpers, Atlantic, and the New Englander. In his first annual report to Loring, he said that action should be taken to ensure that the extensive public domain forest lands owned by the federal government were properly cared for and were used for the general welfare. He also recommended that the federal government establish forestry schools and experiment stations.

Egleston served an active role on American Forestry Association (AFA) committees. He delivered several addresses to the annual meetings of the AFA.

Egleston was apparently not well regarded by Loring’s successor as commissioner of agriculture, Norman J. Colman, who had been appointed by President Grover Cleveland. In June 1885, Egleston tried unsuccessfully to get an appointment with his new commissioner. Colman did not ask Egleston for a program for his division, nor did Egleston offer one. Colman asked for Egleston’s resignation, but returned the document a month later. Historian Pete Steen (1976) wrote that Egleston was “befuddled by indecision and uncertainty, Egleston meekly waited to be fired.”

Cleveland appointed Bernhard E. Fernow’s as chief of the USDA Division of Forestry on March 15, 1886. Egleston appears to have been relieved rather than upset when he was replaced by the more qualified Fernow. Fernow was not pleased with Egleston still hanging on, but he did not fire him and he remained with the division until 1898 working on annual reports for the Division of Forestry. He died on August 24, 1912.

 

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