As the early fall breeze swept through the quiet grounds of a sun-drenched French château in Milford, Pennsylvania, a hum of excitement permeated the peaceful scene. Hurried footsteps of working boots pounded the pavement and grass as the US Forest Service staff and volunteers prepared for the opening of the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Grey Towers National Historic Site and Pinchot Institute for Conservation on September 21-22, 2013.
Fifty years ago, on September 24, 1963, Gifford Bryce Pinchot, son to the first Forest Service Chief, Gifford Pinchot, dedicated his family’s summer home to the American public to house a new conservation center. This was done to continue his father’s legacy in environmental education and raising awareness on the finiteness of natural resources. Grey Towers became the place for conversations and policy-making to ensure sustainable practices on the usage of natural resources. On that momentous day, President John F. Kennedy dedicated the Pinchot Institute for Conservation at Grey Towers, which still continues its works at Grey Towers and at the Resources and Conservation Center in Washington, DC.
The 127-year old summer residence of the Pinchot family, opened its doors to over a thousand visitors during the weekend of celebration. The grandeur of Grey Towers, its unique antiques and design features, were inviting and even felt cozy for some visitors. The attraction of the site is not about the physical building but about the family that paved the way for conservation in the United States. To this day, Grey Towers is still a hub for conversations and implementation of conservation efforts.
During Gifford Pinchot’s time, the word conservation sparked outcries and debates from loggers and landowners because private property rights were and still are rigorously protected. There was pressure from leading scientists and politicians to preserve* much of the forests in the western United States. Gifford Pinchot trailblazed through the political backlash in order to promote the idea that conservation will provide a sustainable economy for loggers and miners and their children. Gifford Pinchot understood the influential power that photographs have on the general public’s perception on conservation. During his time, photography was an emerging art form and a risky tool to use when it comes to his campaign efforts. Gifford Pinchot used photography “to present the American landscape to the public, not as an ephemeral artistic creation but as an actual physical location with practical utility and transcendental beauty” (Magill 51). In the spirit of Gifford Pinchot’s love of the pragmatism of photography and the moving image, the essence of the 50th Anniversary celebration is presented below:
American Chestnut Tree Planting at Grey Towers National Historic Site
Caption: Dr. Leila Pinchot with the next generations of environmental stewards planting a blight-resistant American Chestnut tree hybrid at Grey Towers National Historic Site to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Grey Towers and Pinchot Institute for Conservation.
WVIA-TV: State of Pennsylvania – 50 Years After JFK’s Visit to Milford
Caption: Gifford Pinchot and President Theodore Roosevelt were friends and national leaders in conservation. In the WVIA-TV program, State of Pennsylvania: 50 Years After JFK’s Visit to Milford, Peter Pinchot (grandson of Gifford Pinchot) and Theodore Roosevelt IV (great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt) talked about their family’s legacy and what it was like growing up with prominent last names.
*Preservation is the idea of limiting human interaction with nature to keep the natural surrounding pristine. This is the philosophy behind the National Parks Service. Conservation is the idea of using natural resources in a sustainable manner and is the philosophy behind the US Forest Service.
Cover photo: “Gone Fishing” painting by Marie Liu