The Biltmore Forest School was the first school of forestry in North America. The school of “practical forestry” was founded by Carl A. Schenck in 1898 on George W. Vanderbilt’sBiltmore Estate near Asheville, North Carolina. The school grounds are now part of Pisgah National Forest in Transylvania County, North Carolina.
Today, the former school forms the basis of the Cradle of Forestry in America, a 6500-acre historic site which features exhibits about forestry and forest conservation history. The site includes the Forest Discovery Center, an indoor forestry museum, gift shop and cafe. There are two guided trails that include several of the school’s buildings, a 1914 Climax logging locomotive and a portable sawmill. The Center offers special programs, crafts demonstrations, nature education programs and special events.
In 1895, Carl A. Schenck was brought by George W. Vanderbilt from Germany to Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate in North Carolina to work managing the vast expanses of forest lands on the estate’s property. Schenck replaced Gifford Pinchot as Vanderbilt’s estate forester, and immediately began introducing new scientific management and practical forestry techniques. As Schenck worked throughout Vanderbilt’s vast forest lands in Western North Carolina, he found himself explaining to local young men what he was working on and why it was important to maintain healthy forests. The growing interest in forestry work Schenck found among the locals caused him to look into starting his own forestry education program.
With the permission of Vanderbilt, Schenck established the Biltmore Forest School using abandoned farm buildings on the estate grounds. This was the first school of forestry in North America. According to The Biltmore Company, the school “opened its doors on September 1, 1898.” According to Steven Anderson, President of the Forest History Society, this was just “a few weeks” before the opening of the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell University, under the leadership of Dr. Bernhard Fernow.
The Biltmore Forest School offered a one-year course of study, and the curriculum focused on providing traditional classroom lectures in silvicultural theory supplemented with extensive hands-on, practical forest management field training. Schenck’s students spent most afternoons in the forest doing hands-on work and directly applying the theories they had learned in the classroom. Schenck was a demanding, but engaging professor, and his students took to him immediately, absorbing as much of the scientific forestry theories as they could.