USDA Forest Service

Grey Towers National Historic Site


Grey Towers National Historic Site
151 Grey Towers Drive
PO Box 188
Milford, PA 18337

(570) 296-9630

Historical Information

Home > Historical Information > James Pinchot

James Wallace Pinchot (1831 - 1908)

Photo of James Wallace PinchotJames Pinchot made a fortune first importing, then later manufacturing, fine Victorian wall papers. Friends described him as gentle, intelligent and distinguished, with a keen interest in public affairs. He held strong notions about right and wrong in public life and loved the arts.

Counted among his friends were the esteemed actor Edwin Booth (brother of John Wilkes) and artists like Sanford Gifford and Eastman Johnson. Poets, philosophers, generals and politicians--William Cullen Bryant, Bayard Taylor, Launt Thompson, William T. Sherman, Charles P. Stone, James Roosevelt, the elder Theodore Roosevelt and John Jay--rounded out the list. His friendships with Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmsted thrived in a mutual interest to improve the quality of urban and domestic life.

James belonged to a number of important New York organizations, including the Century Association, the Union League Club, the Players Club, the Grolier Society, and the New York Chamber of Commerce. The Cosmos and Metropolitan Clubs in Washington, D.C. held his memberships as well. These not only nurtured his artistic and intellectual pursuits, but were the engines of power that ran New York and much of the nation in the l9th century.

Into these organizations, and after their college graduations, James brought his sons, Gifford and Amos . The boys soon struck up acquaintances with Theodore Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, Elihu Root, Henry L. Stimson and others -- all inducted by their fathers and all eventually to play major roles in national politics.

James' popularity and contacts made him a natural choice to lobby in Washington for legislation to accept the Statue of Liberty. As a member of the Executive Committee, he helped push through the design and construction of its pedestal on Liberty Island. With others, James founded and was a principal benefactor of both the National Academy of Design and the American Museum of Natural History. He reputedly helped organize the first Model Tenement Associations in the United States to improve living conditions for New York City's poor.

His abhorrence of wastefulness made him a mainstay of the American Forestry Association, which sought as early as 1875 to halt the reckless destruction of natural resources by employing conservative management. With his wife, Mary, he endowed the Yale School of Forestry and established at Milford the first forest experiment station in the nation to encourage the reforestation of denuded lands.

To the town of Milford he donated his former house for a library, the use of Forest Hall for meetings (built for the Yale School of Forestry), land for a cemetery and a design for it prepared at his expense by the Olmsted Brothers in 1906.

James Pinchot's means of gaining wealth were once described as having created no slums, fouled no rivers, corrupted no politicians, wasted no valuable resources and enslaved no workers. His philosophy embraced the Utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill, which defined social good as "the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people."

The Pinchot children adopted the same attitude. With fathers like James Pinchot, it's little wonder the Progressives, a political party which Gifford and Amos helped found, bore no love for "the malefactors of great wealth," as Theodore Roosevelt branded those who pursued private profit at the expense of public good.

One of the chief inheritances Gifford and Amos received from their father was the sense of struggle between right and wrong in the world, that they were among the select few chosen to defend the masses from the corrupt. Their weapons, provided mostly by their parents and relatives, were education, trained wit, contacts and the financial freedom to become crusaders.


Mary Jane Eno Pinchot (1838 - 1914)

Photo of Mary Jane Eno Pinchot Mary Jane Eno entered the world within a wealthy family in New York City and married James Pinchot there in 1864. She was well schooled in manners and active socially. Since the couple lived in the mansions of relatives until the 1880's, their family life was a bit unordinary. She traveled extensively with her children--and with friends like General Sherman--and lived in France for several years in the 1870s, with James commuting between New York and Paris.

Mary doted on her children, especially Gifford, who remained a bachelor until near her death. She tended to be possessive toward him, and often expressed concern about his physical condition when he was young. Gifford occasionally rebelled with excessive athleticism, usually followed by remorse.

In 1900, James and Mary sold their house in New York City and purchased one in Washington, D.C. where they could watch more closely over Gifford’s career. He lived at home and, after his father’s death in 1908, drew most of his mother’s attention. Mary acquired a reputation as a bountiful hostess, serving Gifford’s frequent and sometimes large gatherings of up to 300 people at their lavish house.

Mary loved to collect objects of fine craftsmanship. Her set of antique fans was borrowed for display by the Smithsonian Institution in 1908. Too ill to attend Gifford’s wedding in 1914, she died a few days later at the Eno family home in Connecticut. Gifford was extremely attached to his mother and named his yacht the Mary Pinchot before his voyage to the South Seas.


USDA Forest Service - Grey Towers National Historic Site
Last Modified: Monday, 16 December 2013 at 14:19:05 CST

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