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Yale Summer School of Forestry (1900 - 1926)

Photo of Yale Forestry Summer School buildingsWhen Grey Towers finally rose above Milford in 1886, nearly all the once forested land surrounding it had been cleared for farming. No one seemed particularly worried though. The supply of the nation's timber, of course, would last forever. Fortunately, James Pinchot, with others, saw the fallacy in such thinking. Marketable trees, it turned out, would soon be exhausted if the destructive lumbering techniques then employed continued. The trick was to convince the public.

So, James helped found the American Forestry Association and suggested to his son, Gifford, a career in forestry. Gifford eventually became Chief of the fledgling Division of Forestry but found both trained foresters and schools with significant programs in forestry in short supply. In 1900, he persuaded his parents to endow Yale University with $150,000 to start a post graduate forestry school. The Pinchots continued to give money for several years. The university additionally agreed to hold summer field camps for practical experience on the Pinchot estate in Milford.

Harry Graves, Yale's first Dean of Forestry, once said:

"The object of the school was not only to give specific instruction but to build up a profession; not merely to teach men how to handle forest lands, but to train them to be leaders in one of the most important economic movements of the time."


The first camp at Grey Towers opened in the summer of 1901. It was initially designed only as an introduction to forestry and almost anyone with an interest could sign up. By 1904, a required twelve-week professional course was added that lead to a masters degree in forestry from Yale.

Photo of Forest Hall, Milford, PennsylvaniaThat same year, James Pinchot completed Forest Hall in Milford. It had a large lecture facility and several classrooms. A much smaller cottage near Grey Towers also served similar purposes. The rest of the school sat in 60 acres of woods near Grey Towers and consisted of three wooden buildings--a mess hall, a lecture hall and a club house. There were also about fifty tents for housing and an athletic field. Each tent came equipped with cots and a bucket, pitcher and wash basin.

The students in the camps came from throughout the country and some from overseas. They got up at 6:30 in the morning, scrambled to breakfast, then worked in the field running surveys, estimating timber volume, planting trees and learning other aspects of applied forestry.

Saturday nights were usually spent at dances. Sunday afternoons provided free time. The boys built a small dam to create a swimming hole and swam there often, drawing complaints from strollers along the river about swimmers in "nature's costume." While most of the students behaved themselves, once in a while a few turned rambunctious and got the attention of "Officer Wood."

Photo of Yale School of Forestry student tentsThe Pinchots invited the students to lawn parties, dinner parties and teas. And all the boys looked forward to the weekly campfire where they sang and told stories. Gifford Pinchot generally attended to the delight of the students. The Milford Dispatch reported that they honored him as a leader and friend and always greeted him with boisterous cheers.

"It is an inspiration to hear him talk, and now it seems no mystery to me that he has been able to do so much for forestry in the United States."

--Yale forestry student

By the end of the summer of 1926, the woodlands around Grey Towers were no longer suitable for practical instruction and the summer school moved to a new location near New Haven. Today, all that remain of the camp are stone foundations, some scattered boards and thousands of tall growing trees planted by the students. Where the buildings once sat in a large open field, the ruins have now been swallowed up by dense forest.


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


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