“Is Your Christmas Tree a Hoosier, too?”

photo-1_christmas_tree_sale
Richard A. Greene, “Christmas Tree Sale,” 1958, Ball State University Archives and Special Collections, accessed Indiana Memory.

In 1950, the Indianapolis Star asked its readers “Is your Christmas tree a Hoosier, too?” Turns out, there was a good chance it was. The article reported that by December 17, 1950, Indiana State Forests and private growers had already cut 100,000 pine trees for the Christmas season. How did the state get into the Christmas tree business?

photo-2_illustrated-christmas-pp_7611-001
The royal family with their tree in Illustrated London News, December 1848, accessed British Library.

German immigrants brought the Christmas tree tradition to America in the 1700s. However, the practice didn’t catch on for the rest of the nation until the mid-19th century when England’s Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, popularized it. In 1848, an illustration of the royal family celebrating around a Christmas tree appeared in the Illustrated London News. Eventually, putting up a Christmas tree spread from Britain to the United States as individuals sought to emulate the fashionable royal family.

By the time Christmas trees became a relatively common American tradition, American forests were dwindling, including in Indiana. European-American settlers had cleared much of Indiana’s original 20 million acres of forests for farming, fuel, and lumber by the mid-1800s. As forests disappeared, Americans began to realize the natural resources in their vast country were not inexhaustible. A new conservation ethic emerged, which championed rational use and planning of natural resources, including forests so enough lumber (and of course, Christmas trees) would be available for future generations.

For some, the new conservation ethic clashed with the Christmas tree tradition. How could conservationists approve chopping down hundreds of thousands of trees every December for the holiday festivities? According to legend, President Theodore Roosevelt, an ardent conservationist, refused to have a Christmas tree in the White House because he was opposed to excessive lumbering practices. During his presidency, journalists speculated in newspapers whether the Roosevelt family would put up a tree. According to some accounts, in 1902, Roosevelt forbade his family to have a Christmas tree. In retaliation, Roosevelt’s son, Archie hid a tree in a closet, had a White House electrician hang some lights on it, and surprised his family with it on Christmas Day.

photo-3_-91881
Unlike the Roosevelts, President Grover Cleveland and his family celebrated with a Christmas tree in the White House, 1894, accessed whitehousehistory.org.
ad
Early advertisement for a Christmas Eve Festival in Indianapolis, Indianapolis Star, December 24, 1863, accessed newspapers.com.

Hoosiers too were conflicted between their new commitment to conservation and love of holiday festivities. The first advertisements for Christmas trees for sale appeared in Indiana newspapers around the 1860s. At the same time, Christmas parties or festivals for children, all featuring Christmas trees and gift giving, began to be held.

On the other hand, Indiana started its state forestry program in 1901 and established the state’s first forest reservation in Clark County, later known as the Clark State Forest, in 1903. The state began experimental plantings at the state forest in 1904 to determine the trees best suited to Indiana soils and thus reforest the state.

artificial
“The Artificial Tree,” Indianapolis Journal, December 10, 1903, accessed newspapers.com.

As state foresters slowly repopulated the state with trees, Hoosiers debated whether they could be conservationists, without also being a Scrooge. James S. Whipple, state forest, fish, and game commissioner issued a statement in 1907 encouraging families to use artificial trees instead of cutting down young evergreen trees for the holidays. Whipple said “To destroy millions of these trees every year when we are in such need of more timber in this country . . . seems very wasteful.”

In 1911, the Angola Herald of Angola, Indiana printed an article titled “Sacrifice of the Christmas Trees,” complete with several photos of logging operations. One photo of a pile of freshly cut pines next to trucks laden with logs was captioned “Defacing Nature for a Night’s Pleasure.” The article asked “Will the children in 1925 have Christmas trees? . . . Indications point to the supposition that within the next 15 years the supply of the evergreen trees with which we deck our living rooms annually at the feast of St. Nicholas will be so small that folk in ordinary walks of life will not be able to afford a tree.” The article noted that trees were so scarce on the east coast and Midwest, most Christmas trees had to be imported from Canada.

photo-6
Angola Herald, December 13, 1911, p. 2 accessed newspapers.com.

Luckily, most Hoosier conservationists recognized the beloved Christmas tree could be used to advance forestry in the state. Frank N. Wallace, the state entomologist, frankly told the Indianapolis News in 1924 “Let’s have Christmas trees.” Wallace said he believed the Christmas tree custom “can be utilized as a boom to forestation, for the American Christmas traditions are built around the tree and in order that future generations may have the privileges of the present generation,” the present generation must support reforestation. The next year, esteemed botanist and state forester Charles C. Deam encouraged the local communities to begin growing enough Christmas trees to satisfy local demand. Deam noted that large waste lands unsuitable for agriculture all over Indiana could be used to grow common Christmas tree varieties, including Norway spruce, white spruce, balsam fir, and Douglas fir. Since prices on imported fir and spruce had increased that year by 30%, Christmas tree farming could be quite profitable for the Hoosier economy.

photo-7
Christmas trees trucked out at Morgan-Monroe State Forest (Martinsville, Indiana), Outdoor Indiana, December 1957, accessed Indiana University Digital Collections.
photo-8
Part of Kern Christmas Tree farm in Fulton County, Outdoor Indiana, December 1964, accessed Indiana University Digital Collections.

Christmas tree farms began to spread across the state, especially after World War II. State foresters provided guidance on forestry management, tree trimming and cutting. Farmers could jumpstart their Christmas tree farm by purchasing and planting pine seedlings nurtured at one of several state forests. However, farmers had to be dedicated; growing a Christmas tree was time consuming. In 1964, Outdoor Indiana featured the Bob Kern Christmas Tree Farm in Fulton County, Indiana. Kern established his farm in about 1947. He managed 400 acres of Scotch and white pine, as well as other species of spruce and fir. Kern emphasized Christmas tree growing was so difficult because farmers had to pay particular attention to cultivating richly colored, symmetrical trees that consumers would want in their homes. Weeds had to kept down and each tree pruned to its desired taper. Furthermore, a six foot tree generally took at least six years to grow. Since it took so much time to produce just one tree, seedlings had to be planted soon after a tree was cut to replace it.

photo-9
Bob Kern and his wife shearing Christmas trees to get them in the perfect shape. Notice the stark difference between sheared (left) and unsheared (right). Outdoor Indiana, December 1964, accessed Indiana University Digital Collections.

While Christmas trees survived the conservation era, similar doubts arose in the 1970s during the environmental movement. Postwar affluence fueled by factories, cars, and consumer goods resulted in increasingly polluted water, air, and land. Growing numbers of people, including Hoosiers, lobbied for stronger environmental legislation and adopted new practices, like recycling, to reduce their impact on their natural surroundings. Some still worried cutting down trees for the holidays had a detrimental impact on the environment.

EJ Lott, Purdue University Extension forester assured environmentalists in 1972 that for every tree cut, two or three more were planted the next spring to replace it. He emphasized that “an acre of growing Christmas trees will produce daily oxygen requirements for 18 people.” Furthermore, tree plantations provided not only aesthetically pleasing landscapes, but quality habitats for wildlife. In reality, Christmas trees were a crop, just like soybeans or corn. As long as consumers bought trees, Christmas tree farmers would plant even more to replace those they harvested. As the Herald of Jasper Indiana noted succinctly,

If there was no market for Christmas trees, growers would not plant them. Enjoy your tree.

photo-10
League of Women Voters and youth group tagging trees with recycling tags at Higbee’s Christmas Tree Farm in Anderson, Indiana, Anderson Herald November 29, 1975,  accessed newspapers.com.

Environmentalists also attempted to halt the tendency to burn or throw out Christmas trees once the holidays were over. Various groups in Indiana began fitting Christmas trees into the new “reduce, reuse, recycle” attitude. In Anderson, Indiana, the League of Women Voters started a tree recycling program in 1972.  Instead of throwing out old Christmas trees, they would be chopped up into chips for mulch that could be used later in landscaping and gardening. The Anderson Daily Bulletin noted that “by recycling these trees, we’re not wasting a valuable natural resource and actually are saving taxpayers’ money by not using up much-needed space in the city landfill.” To raise awareness, League of Women Voters members put tags on Christmas trees for sale that asked future owners to recycle the tree once the Christmas season was over. In 1973, the group reported that they had recycled over 700 trees. In a letter to the editor featured in the Anderson Daily Bulletin, the co-chairman of the group wrote “While other cities were still burning trees, Anderson was taking a step forward in ecology.” Other organizations encouraged the purchase of living Christmas trees that one could replant in a park or their backyard after the holiday season was over.

photo-11
Schneider Nursery advertisement, The Tribune [Seymour, Indiana], December 22, 1973, accessed newspapers.com
Some practices from the conservation era and environmental movement endure in Indiana. Today, the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association recommends buying a Hoosier tree to support the local economy and recycling it after the holidays. The Association lists almost 50 Hoosier Christmas tree farms on its website. It also notes Indiana ranks 11th in the nation for Christmas tree production, and produces 200,000 harvestable trees a year. Apparently, a lot of people can still say their tree is a Hoosier, too.

photo-12
“Family cutting down a Christmas tree, Beech Grove, Indiana, ca. 1960,” The Indiana Album: Historic Photographs from the Attic to the Web, accessed Indiana Memory

Charles C. Deam: From Typhoid Survivor to the Great Hoosier Botanist

photo-1_charles-deam-1914
Charles Deam, c. 1914. Photo from Robert C. Kriebel, Plain Ol’ Charlie Deam (Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press/Indiana Academy of Sciences, 1994), n.p.

In the summer of 1881, typhoid fever swept through small town Bluffton, Indiana. Sixteen-year-old Charles C. Deam was one of the many Wells County residents who caught the disease. In the time before antibiotics, basic medical practice offered few treatments, especially in rural America where trained doctors were scarce. According to Deam’s biographer, Robert Kriebel, Deam survived after drinking an old pioneer remedy: milk boiled with an herb called Old-Field Balsam. This incident marked the first chapter in Deam’s dedication to studying and promoting Indiana’s plant life as a botanist, first state forester, and author.

photo-2_deam-drugstore-3-1
Charles Deam outside his drugstore in Bluffton, 1908, Photo courtesy of Get Your Botany On! blog.

Charles Deam was born on August 30, 1865 in Bluffton, Indiana. He grew up on a typical pioneer farm, attended country school and later, the town’s new high school. He completed several consecutive stints teaching public school, attending DePauw University, and working as a farm laborer before deciding to enter the drugstore business in 1888. After an apprenticeship in Marion, Indiana, and a brief assignment as a druggist in Kokomo, Deam returned to Bluffton to run a drugstore in 1891.

photo-4_charlie-and-stella-examining-pinecon-at-their-arboreteum-1940
Deam and his wife, Stella, examining a pinecone at their arboretum in 1940. Image from Robert C. Kriebel, Plain Ol’ Charlie Deam, n.p.

Each job required long hours. At Kokomo, he worked a tiring 84 hours per week to keep the store open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. To deal with the stress, a doctor advised Deam to get out of the drugstore and take a walk through the countryside each day. However, Deam’s incredible work ethic refused to let him simply take leisurely strolls. Instead, Deam and his wife, Stella drew on their passion for collecting things, such as stamps, rocks, or coins, and picked samples of plants and flowers they found on their walks.

bok
Gray’s New Manual of Botany, courtesy of Archive.org.

Deam’s curiosity about the various plants he encountered grew. Luckily, he met Bruce Williamson, a zoology student at Ohio State University, in 1896. One day, Deam and Stella discovered an unusual looking plant and brought it to Bruce to identify. Bruce simply handed over a copy of Gray’s Manual of Botany so they could figure it out themselves. Deam enjoyed going through the book’s key to uncover the plant’s identity; a moth mullein, Verbascum blattaria.

From then on, Deam was hooked. Bruce taught Deam botany basics: how to take field notes, the proper methods to collect specimens, and which books to use to help identify plants. Deam mounted his first specimen on September 13, 1896, a snapdragon called Ilysanthes dubia. Deam, ever the perfectionist, mounted it according to botany standards, on 11.5 by 16.6 inch paper. Eventually Deam collected more than 73,000 specimens, each meticulously catalogued this way. He even collected specimens from every one of Indiana’s 1,008 townships.

Don’t be fooled, though. For Deam, botany was more than a quest to grow a large collection of rare specimens. Robert Kriebel described Deam’s passion for botany as a vehicle to “detect subtle changes in nature, the spreading of some plants, and the disappearance of others. These ongoing changes were baffling, exciting, and unexplored.”

photo-5_pul7275
A specimen Deam collected of an oak tree in Wells County, Indiana in 1944, now held at Purdue University. Photo courtesy of Purdue Herbaria.

In his early years as a fledgling botanist, Deam spent his Sundays biking to neighboring Indiana counties to find more specimens to study. He and Stella also took collecting trips to Florida, Guatemala, and Mexico. On these trips, the two often found a few rare or previously unidentified plants. He sent specimens to notable, professional botanists at Harvard, University of Michigan, Purdue University, Indiana University and other institutions, who later named them for the first time and shared Deam’s discoveries with the broader scientific community. Botanists saw the value of Deam’s carefully mounted specimens. Deam carefully chose the specimen that most accurately represented its species, and noted the date, place of collection, and description of the surrounding habitat and environment. These connections helped Deam evolve from an amateur botanist into a nationally-known professional.

photo-6_deam-in-bluffton-workroom-1949
Charles Deam working at his home in Bluffton, 1949. Image from Kriebel, Plain Ol’ Charlie Deam, n.p.

Around 1905, Deam began to realize that the most successful botanists focused on a specific area of the field and limited their work to a certain geographic area. He decided to focus on Indiana plants only, and gave away hundreds of specimens he collected outside the state to herbariums housed in universities, museums, and other institutions around the country. This new statewide focus allowed Deam to publish his findings in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science and he slowly became somewhat of a star in the scientific community in the state.

As Deam’s renown spread, Governor Thomas Marshall asked Deam to act as the first full-time Indiana state forester in 1909. The job would require him to live in Indianapolis for part of the year and spend the other part supervising the newly created Clark State Forest near Henryville, Indiana. At first, Deam denied the appointment. Between his drugstore business and his collecting trips in the field, he felt he had no time to spare. However, after much persuasion from colleagues, as well friends and neighbors in Bluffton who had lobbied hard to secure Deam the appointment, Deam realized that he would wield tremendous influence as the state forester over botany, as well as forestry in Indiana. The position permitted state-paid travel and further opportunities to botanize on weekends. Furthermore, the ability to flash a state badge (in dire situations only, of course) would allow him entrance to lands that before had been restricted.

Deam worked as state forester from 1909-1913 and 1917-1928. Under Deam’s supervision, a period of outstanding forestry education and research began in Indiana. He kept detailed, official records of the state’s important experimental tracts at Clark State Forest. These experimental tracts were part of Indiana’s attempts to reforest the state. Indiana’s first settlers had long ago cleared much of the state’s widespread, dense hardwood forests for farming, fuel, and lumber. The experimental tracts, which tested methods of planting, pruning, and reforestation, would help determine which tree species were best suited to Indiana’s soil, topography, and climate.

Through these experiments, Deam debunked the myth that original species of trees, in Indiana’s case, hardwoods, grew best if replanted in the same soil. Deam applied the practice of agricultural crop rotation and discovered that conifers actually thrived on land that once held hardwoods. Thereafter, planting pine trees became common in reforestation projects in Southern Indiana.

In addition to guiding this reforestation process, Deam worked hard to educate Hoosiers about the value of forestry in the state for both economic and environmental purposes. Deam held an annual forestry essay contest for students, created a forestry exhibit for the Indiana State Fair, issued educational press releases, and held special visitor days at Clark State Forest to show off the work being done.

photo-7_forestry-exhibit-in-state-fair-sept-8-12-1913
Forestry exhibit Deam created for the Indiana State Fair, September 1913. Photo from Indiana, State Board of Forestry, Annual Report of the State Board of Forestry (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, 1914), 66, accessed hathitrust.org

In 1921, Deam wrote and lobbied for the passage of the Forest Classification Act, which established methods to keep the state’s private forests intact. The law created standards that landowners maintain in order to exempt their woods from taxation. The program, perhaps Deam’s most important legacy in Indiana forestry, currently includes 410,000 acres of forested land. After passage, other states created similar laws modeled after this one.

By 1928, Deam decided to leave forestry behind to pursue his true passion, plant taxonomy and writing. The state of Indiana didn’t seem to want to give Deam up, though. Since a “state botanist” position didn’t exist, the state made Deam a “research forester,” so he could be paid to continue his work cataloging the natural history of Indiana.

photo-9_deam-with-plant-press-1926
Deam working with a plant press in the field, 1926. Photo from Kriebel, Plain Ol’ Charlie Deam, n.p.

His first book Trees of Indiana, signifies the first phase of this process. Published in 1912, it became the most comprehensive book of its type published in the state. As a drug store owner, Deam had long been writing Deam’s Almanac for his customers, chock-full of wit, flashy advertisements, weather reports, and sensational cures for various ailments. This experience writing for popular audiences expanded the readership of Trees of Indiana beyond scientists. While the book included biological keys for identification, tables, charts, and scientific data for serious scholars, it also contained anecdotes, sermons, and Deam’s own personal commentary.

treesofindiana00deam_0001
Trees of Indiana, 1919, accessed internetarchive.org.

The resulting familiar style made the book’s appeal extend to students, teachers, and hobbyists, in addition to professional botanists and foresters. Indiana printed 10,000 free copies, which were exhausted within three years. Thousands of requests for additional copies could not be filled until 1919, when additional funds allowed for a reprinting. These 1,000 copies were all given away within 5 days. Over the next four decades the book was reprinted and revised, and often used as a key text for forestry students in universities around the nation.

The popularity of Trees of Indiana launched Deam’s fame within the state and nation. He wrote three other similar books, Shrubs of Indiana (1924), Grasses of Indiana (1929), and Flora of Indiana (1940) in order to help record Indiana’s natural surroundings before advancing agriculture, industry, and urbanization destroyed it.

Somehow, Deam still found time to get out in the field and botanize. In 1915, he bought a Ford Model T and equipped it specially to supplement his collecting practice. He fitted a truck type body he bought from a Bluffton wagon-maker to the car. He also attached canvas flaps, drawers, shelves, and storage cubicles to it to house all his tools, materials, and collected specimens. He even included enough sleeping space for him and Stella, as well as a hammock if another of his colleagues joined them. This vehicle, christened the “weed wagon,” carried him to every Indiana township. The weed wagon, much speedier than travel by horse, bike or on foot, helped Deam dramatically increase his collection. Before acquiring the vehicle, he averaged an addition of 1,500 specimens per year; in 1915 he added 3,764 specimens.

photo-8_deam-breakfast-outside-model-t-ford-june-20-1923-marble-hill-jefferson-county
Deam eating breakfast outside his weed wagon, 1923 near Marble Hill, Indiana. Photo from Kriebel, Plain Ol’ Charlie Deam, n.p.

After Deam finished Flora of Indiana in 1940, he began to slow down, but not by choice. He suffered from arthritis, poor eyesight, loss of hearing, and gout. He still collected, but at a much slower pace. Still, by the time of his death in 1953, he had collected more than 70,000 specimens, all contained in his in-house herbarium at his home in Bluffton. In 1931, he arranged to have his entire collection sold to Indiana University at Bloomington at the price of $10 per 100 sheets. Botany students can still peruse his collection housed in the Smith Research Center on the Bloomington campus.*

photo-10_-copy-of-deam-oak
A hybrid oak tree Deam discovered and named, now known as the Deam oak in his honor. Photo courtesy of Get Your Botany On! blog.

Today, Deam’s legacy lives on. He currently has a tree, a lake, a national wilderness area, and 48 small plants named after him. Numerous universities, including Wabash College, DePauw University, Indiana University, and Purdue University awarded him numerous honorary degrees and distinctions throughout his life. Even though Deam wrote modestly in 1946, “I am just plain Charley Deam and I never want anyone to think anything else,” he clearly helped Hoosiers realize the importance of their forests and flora, and ensured it would be studied for generations to come.

*For information about how to use the data portals please see this guide and Zoom presentation.

 

Roughing It in Clark State Forest: The Purdue Forestry Summer Camp

 

henryville4Med
Students from the first Purdue Summer Forestry camp, 1929 at the Clark State Forest. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources, FNR.1929.PRI.010.

A Purdue forestry student wrote in the forestry department’s satirical yearbook, The Log, in 1934,

If you can read, sometime and somewhere you have read of great discoverers that have made what we call History. Some of these famed discoverers and explorers were men such as Columbus, Balboa, and Magellan, but they are the past. Now, what I want to tell you about is the explorers of today, and the vast areas that have yet to be trodden by mankind.

These contemporary explorers were the freshman class of the Purdue forestry school, who braved the “Wilds of Southern Indiana,” every summer to practice forestry at the Purdue Forestry Summer Camp at the Clark State Forest, near Henryville, Indiana from 1929-1958. The summer camp, still in operation today in Michigan, provided a place for forestry students to apply the theories they learned in the classroom, bond with fellow classmates, and facilitate sustainable forestry management in Indiana and the greater Midwest.

Purdue first offered forestry classes during the 1905-1906 school year, and by 1926, Purdue had its own forestry department within the School of Agriculture. Though Purdue forestry students had been taking week-long trips to the Clark State Forest to study and practice forestry for years, the new department head, Burr Prentice, decided that a longer, more formal period of study was needed to prepare Purdue forestry students for the job market. Prentice established the first forestry camp in the summer of 1929. For eight weeks, the entire forestry student body roughed it in the Clark State Forest, and completed surveys, conducted research, and learned how to properly manage timber to ensure a sustained timber yield. It was so successful that students returned to the forest to work every year until 1958.

photo-2-purdue-summer-forestry-camp-1929-work
First forestry school campers at work estimating the amount of timber on a tract to determine what can be cut and what left behind for further growth, 1929. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources, FNR.1929.PRI.007.

Clark State Forest, Indiana’s first state forest, served as an ideal place for the students to practice forestry. Indiana established the forest in 1903 to lead the way in the state’s reforestation. Originally, half the land that currently comprises the United States was covered in forests; Indiana alone contained 20 million acres. However, like many forests nationwide, European-American settlers cleared much of Indiana’s forests for farming, fuel, and lumber by the mid-19th century. The widespread clearing of forests helped foster a new conservation ethic in the nation and Indiana in the late 19th century that advocated a different perception of natural resources. Instead of viewing natural resources, including forests, as inexhaustible, conservationists advocated using science and technology to rationally plan efficient development and use of natural resources to ensure enough would be available for future generations.

Foresters, including Indiana’s first state forester, the noted botanist Charles C. Deam, started practicing scientific forestry to help conserve enough trees for future use. They made sure annual cutting did not exceed annual growth of trees, employed methods to reduce disease and fire damage of trees, and conducted experiments to discover which trees were best suited to their specific location. By the time the Purdue forestry students arrived in 1929, the forest had grown from an original 2,000 to 5,000 acres. It also featured a large reserve of hardwood timber and evergreens, as well as over 100 experimental tracts Deam had created and monitored for years to help determine the trees that grew best in Indiana’s soil and climate.

The first camp site at the forest was far from glamorous. The only building for the students was an old red barn, which served as a kitchen, dining room, and study hall.

photo-4-student-camp-1934-clement-bryan
Student foresters relaxing in their tents, 1934. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources.

Students lived in tents pitched over wooden platforms, which were only big enough for two bunks and a small walkway. There was no running water or electricity. Students had to take turns carting water from the Forest Supervisor’s home for drinking, cooking, and bathing, so it was used sparingly. The rustic accommodations, and hot and dirty surroundings, inspired the students to christen their camp “Camp Butt.” Students nicknamed Stinky, Shiny, and Rosey even lovingly built a sign bearing the name for their camp in 1932 that the director of the camp, Professor Geltz, allowed them to keep for “the admiration and reverence of the coming generations.”

In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began work in the Clark State Forest. Part of their duties involved building a mess hall, study hall, modern bathroom, an instrument shed, and student and staff tent frames for the forestry camp. Students in The Log expressed uncertainty about their new campsite, saddened that their original campgrounds would “no longer flourish in all its simple grandeur.” One student wrote

Electricity and running water can’t always be a companion of the ambitious forester. Those facilities, in my opinion, are for foresters that can’t take it.

However, the thirty nine students who arrived at the new camp in 1935 found it unfinished. Thankfully, there was still no electricity, running water, or showers.

photo-4-new-cabins-1954
New cabins built in 1947 to help modernize the camp, circa 1954. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources.

But, there was a big mess hall and study hall complete with two fire places. Even when the entire modern camp was finished in 1936, Professor Geltz created a side camp to keep the tradition of rough living conditions alive that would show the students what field work in forestry was like. The students began spending a week of their experience living in the side camp, sleeping under the stars in tents, cooking for themselves, and writing field notes by lantern light in the evenings.

photo-5-side-camp-mess-tent-photo-1935
Campers cooking in the side camp mess tent, at Clark State Forest, 1935. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources, FNR.1935.PRI.007A.

Since the students spent so much of their time working, they seemed to have spent little time in their new, luxurious accommodations anyway. The work day was from 8AM to 5PM, Monday through Friday, and from 8AM to 4PM on Saturday. The students spent most days in the field, practicing dendrology (study of trees), silvics (growing and cultivation and trees), mensuration (measuring the growth and yield of timber), entomology (study of insects), and surveying, building roads or trails, maintaining the state forests’ buildings, or working in the nursery. In addition to forestry work, each student also had a special assignment to help cook meals, clean, chop wood for fuel, hall water, and other chores. After supper, students studied together in the study hall.

photo-6-surveying-class-1935
Campers completing surveying work at the forestry summer camp in Clark State Forest, 1935. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources, FNR.1935.PRI.004.

When the camp was shut down during World War II, Purdue forestry professors decided students could handle even more work and revised the curriculum. The department increased the camp from eight to ten weeks long and required the students to complete three courses (forest surveying, applied silviculture, and forest measurements) while attending. Instead of attending after their freshman year, students now arrived ready to work at Henryville after their sophomore year.

However, true to form as young college students, the campers still found ways to have fun in their off time. They played hockey, swam, and hiked. During the 1930s,

photo-7-date-night-1954
Date Night at the Purdue Summer Forestry Camp, 1950. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources.

the students played baseball games against the CCC men also working in the state forest, who had their own athletic field. On Wednesday and Saturday nights, the students were allowed to leave the camp. Many of them went to nearby Henryville to play pool or date the local girls. Most years also included a special trip to Louisville to tour Churchill Downs, the Slugger baseball bat factory, and a saw mill.

The students also dabbled in sketching and writing poems, essays, and jokes to express themselves in their free time. Existing copies of The Log contain humorous recollections of daily activities in the camp, cartoons, and poems about forestry work. Clement Bryan, a forestry student from 1933-1937 who edited the summer camp yearbook in 1934 wrote the following simple poem after a hard days’ work as a forester at camp:

Tired and weary,
Sweaty,
Dirty,
Lagging step and listless hands;
His work done

–the forester.

surveyin-cartoon
“Surveyin” cartoon created by a forestry student, The Log, 1932, p. 21. Courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources.

Unfortunately, in 1954 rumors started that the US Highway 65 (now Interstate 65), which roped around the forest, would be rerouted through the campsite. The students spread through the forest to investigate and found a State Highway Commission crew surveying the area for the new highway that would pass within a few feet of the camp. In 1958, the Purdue Forestry department acquired 17 buildings for a new campsite along the shores of Lost Lake in the Nicolet National Forest, near Tipton, Wisconsin. The last camp held at the Clark State Forest ended in August 1958.

Forestry students included an article in their 1959 Log year book dedicated to the closing of the camp at Clark State Forest to show how embedded the camp was in Purdue forestry tradition.

Since the summer of 1929 nearly 800 students and staff have studied, and taught, and cried, and laughed, and sweat[ed], and learned, and lived, at the Forestry Camp, Henryville, Indiana. But on August 1, 1958…the camp was abandoned. But memories of the camp will never die, and for years to come Purdue foresters will talk about ‘when the camp was at Henryville.’

Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources is one of a few universities that still offers a residential camp for students. Increasing expenses led many universities to eliminate their camps. Purdue’s camp survived because of the generosity of John S. Wright, who endowed the program to keep it affordable for students. The camp now also includes students in other disciplines, such as fisheries, aquatic sciences, and wildlife. Participants focus on land measurement, surveying, inventory of natural resources, and resource management. The 2016 summer camp was held in Iron River, Michigan. To enjoy more of the school’s history, explore their FNR Past and Present webpage, which contains histories and photos of the summer camp, copies of The Log year book, and class photos from 1938.

photo-8-current-summer-forestry-camp
Purdue summer practicum group, 2016 at Iron River, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources.

 

Edwin Way Teale: “Traveler in Little Realms”

"Teale Working Outside," photograph, 1960, Edwin Way Teale Papers,University of Connecticut Digital Collections, http://hdl.handle.net/11134/20002:199714571
Edwin Way Teale, “Teale Working Outside,” photograph, 1960, Edwin Way Teale Papers, University of Connecticut Digital Collections, accessed http://hdl.handle.net/11134/20002:199714571

[This post is adapted from a footnoted research paper created to support the text of the Edwin Way Teale state historical marker.]

American naturalists have been cited for combining philosophy and writing in ways that affect how concerned citizens value and care for their environment. Edwin Way Teale is considered one of the twentieth century’s most influential naturalists, stemming from his ability to combine the artistic, philosophical, and scientific in his writing. According to the extensive Biographical Dictionary of American and Canadian Naturalists and Environmentalists, “Through his popular books [Teale] convinced Americans they had a personal stake in the preservation of ecological zones [and] convinced them to support national parks and conservation movements.” Teale credited his renowned career to his rich childhood spent in the Indiana Dunes, where he developed a love for nature, an eye for photography, and an accessible writing style.

He immortalized his boyhood adventures in Dune Boy and later works, including Wandering through Winter, for which he became the first naturalist to win a Pulitzer Prize. Teale is included in the “heyday of dunes art and literature begun and perpetuated” by a group of artists of the “Chicago Renaissance” movement, according to J. Ronald Engel’s Sacred Sands: The Struggle for Community in the Indiana Dunes. Naturalists, conservationists, writers, and critics have ranked Teale among the renowned American naturalists, including John Muir, John Burroughs, and Henry David Thoreau.

Born Edwin AlfredTeale on June 2, 1899 in Joliet, Illinois. He later wrote of his disdain for the dismal industrial landscape of his parents’ home. Instead, Teale favored the holidays and summers he spent with “Gram and Gramp” exploring their Lone Oak farm in the Indiana Dunes. In Dune Boy (1943), Teale wrote that “to a boy alive to the natural harvest of birds and animals and insects, [Lone Oak] offered boundless returns.”

As he grew up, Teale’s interest in nature grew as well. At the age of seven or eight Teale looked through his first microscope, and at nine he declared himself a naturalist. By the age of ten he finished his twenty-five chapter “Tails [sic] of Lone Oak,” and at twelve he changed his name to “the more distinguished” Edwin Way Teale.

"Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore," photograph, National Parks Foundation, http://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/indiana-dunes-national-lakeshore
“Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore,” photograph, National Parks Foundation, http://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/indiana-dunes-national-lakeshore
Earlham Hall, postcard, 1916, Morrison-Reeves Library, Digital Collection, accessed Indiana Memory.
Earlham Hall, postcard, 1916, Morrison-Reeves Library, Digital Collection, accessed Indiana Memory.

In 1918, Teale enrolled at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana; he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1922. On August 1, 1923, Teale married his college sweetheart Nellie Imogene Donovan, who would become his “partner naturalist.”

Teale Home (undergoing roof repair), photograph, 2013, Indiana Historical Bureau file.
Teale Home (undergoing roof repair), photograph, 2013, Indiana Historical Bureau file.

The Teales moved to New York City in 1924, where Edwin attended Columbia University, and continued writing. After a period of rejection, he obtained regular work assisting Frank Crane, a popular religious writer, with his daily editorial column. The Teales’ only child, David, was born in 1925. In 1926, Teale received his M.A. from Columbia in English literature. In July of that year, he also took possession of his grandparents’ property in the Indiana Dunes, where he and his family built a brick cottage. They maintained the property until selling it in 1937.

Edwin Way and David Teale, photograph, (date cited inaccurate), University of Connecticut Archives and Special Collections, accessed http://digitalcollections.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A199724976
Edwin Way and David Teale, photograph, (date cited inaccurate), University of Connecticut Archives and Special Collections, accessed http://digitalcollections.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A199724976
Popular Science, October 1928, Popular Science Archive, accessed http://www.popsci.com/archives
Popular Science, October 1928, Popular Science Archive, accessed http://www.popsci.com/archives

In 1928, Popular Science hired Teale as a staff writer. Over the next thirteen years, he perfected his photography skills at the magazine, which led his pioneering technique for photographing insects and launched his career. Teale used an icebox to immobilize his insect subjects, placed them in a natural surrounding, set up a camera with magnifying lens, and waited for the subject to reanimate. Using this technique, he represented insects in a novel way – up close and larger than life. After successfully exhibiting his photos around New York City, they were published in nature magazines. His first critically acclaimed book, Grassroot Jungles, displayed a collection of over one hundred of these photos.

Edwin Way Teale, Grassroot Jungles (Dodd, Mead and Company,) 19) accessed the Ecotone Exchange, http://theecotoneexchange.com/category/edwin-way-teale/
Edwin Way Teale, Grassroot Jungles (Dodd, Mead & Company,) 1937) cover photograph accessed the Ecotone Exchange, http://theecotoneexchange.com/category/edwin-way-teale/

In January 1941, Teale’s The Golden Throng was published, receiving praise for the photographs of bees. On October 15 of that year, Teale left his job at Popular Science to become a freelance writer and photographer. He called that day his “own personal Independence Day.”

Teale’s decision to undertake freelance writing and photography also gave him time to work in his insect garden. For several years, Teale paid ten dollars a year for “insect rights” for a plot of land near his Long Island home. He planted “sunflowers, hollyhocks, spice bush and milkweed,” as well as “troughs offering honey and syrup to bees and butterflies (and) hidden pie pans with putrid meat to attract carrion beetles” to his garden. Teale’s biographer and publisher, Edward H. Dodd, wrote that “this small plot of land, undesirable for real-estate purposes, even in Long Island became his outdoor laboratory, his photography studio, his wilderness to explore.”

Edwin Way Teale (studying insects), photograph, 1935, Teale Papers University of Connecticut, Archives and Special Collections, accessed http://digitalcollections.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860118213
Edwin Way Teale (studying insects), photograph, 1935, Teale Papers University of Connecticut, Archives and Special Collections, accessed http://digitalcollections.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860118213

In October 1942, Dodd, Mead & Company published the result of these photography experiments, Near Horizons: The Story of an Insect Garden. Prominent publications praised the book, including the New York Times, Scientific Monthly, and The Scientific American, which proclaimed Teale one of few scientists “heavily gifted with literary charm.”  In this latest book, Teale described himself as “an explorer who stayed at home, a traveler in little realms, a voyager within the near horizons of a hillside.”

https://archive.org/details/duneboytheearlyy011553mbp
Edwin Way Teale, Dune Boy (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1943, reprint 1957) https://archive.org/details/duneboytheearlyy011553mbp

In October 1943, Teale published Dune Boy: The Early Years of a Naturalist.   In this work, Teale recollected the years he spent among the natural wonders of the Indiana Dunes, surveying his surroundings from the roof of the farm house, the shores of Lake Michigan, and the floor of the surrounding woods. In the book, he credits his grandparents for giving him freedom to develop his interest in nature. “At Lone Oak there was room to explore and time for adventure. A new world opened up around me. During my formative years, from earliest childhood to the age of fifteen, I spent my most memorable months here, on the borderland of the dunes.”

Anita Moffett, “A Boy Grows Up Beside Lake Michigan,” New York Times, November 7, 1943, BR10, accessed http://timesmachine.nytimes.com
Anita Moffett, “A Boy Grows Up Beside Lake Michigan,” New York Times, November 7, 1943, BR10, accessed http://timesmachine.nytimes.com

Dune Boy received a long and glowing review in the New York Times. The reviewer alluded to the book and Teale’s childhood, as representative of something inherently American. The reviewer stated that “Dune Boy is not only the record of a naturalist’s beginnings but one of our many-sided American way of life.”

Edwin Way Teale, Dune Boy, Armed Services Edition (Council on Books in Wartime, 1944), accessed amazon.com
Edwin Way Teale, Dune Boy, Armed Services Edition (Council on Books in Wartime, 1944), accessed amazon.com

Indicative of the book’s popularity, the army distributed more than 100,000 copies of Dune Boy during World War II. These “armed service editions” were printed by the Council on Books in Wartime.”  Their slogan was “books are weapons in the war on ideas.”Teale commented that “he heard from many who had read it while engaged in battle for freedom in all parts of the world” and some scholars have suggested that the book presents “a timeless model of the democratic common life, for many . . . an image of their real American homeland.” The Teales’ son, David, served as part of an assault team under General George Patton during the war. After a period of considering him missing in action, in March 1945 the Teales’ received word that their nineteen-year-old son had been killed. The Teales claimed that only their love of nature got them through this difficult time.

Despite the personal tragedy, Teale’s career flourished. On November 19, 1945, The Lost Woods: Adventures of a Naturalist was published with critical acclaim and, beginning in January 1946, newspapers across the country began running Teale’s Nature in Action column.  That November, Dodd, Mead & Company released a version of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, “lovingly prepared” by Teale, who wrote an introduction and provided 142 of his own photographs.

Edwin Way Teale, photograph, 1935, Teale Papers, University of Connecticut Archives and Special Collections, accessed http://digitalcollections.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860118193
Edwin Way Teale, photograph, 1935, Teale Papers, University of Connecticut Archives and Special Collections, accessed http://digitalcollections.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860118193
Edwin Way Teale, North with the Spring (Dodd, Mead & Company, ), photograph of cover Audubon Society Florida Newsletter, March 22, 2012 accessed http://audubonoffloridanews.org/?p=11137
Edwin Way Teale, North with the Spring (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1951), photograph of cover Audubon Society Florida Newsletter, March 22, 2012 accessed http://audubonoffloridanews.org/?p=11137

In November 1951, Dodd, Mead & Company released North with the Spring, the account of the Teales’ 17,000-mile, four month long pursuit of spring across America. According to one New York Times reviewer, the book was “packed with solid learning” about the plants, animals, and weather they encountered, but it was also a “warm and moving” story of husband and wife naturalists. Contemporary environmentalists, such as Rachel Carson, embraced North with the Spring‘s environmentally conscious message.

 

 

Edwin Way Teale, “Skyscrapers, Scaup, Skimmers and Skunks,” New York Times, December 16, 1951, 189, accessed http://query.nytimes.com via subscription.
Edwin Way Teale, “Skyscrapers, Scaup, Skimmers and Skunks,” New York Times, December 16, 1951, 189, accessed http://query.nytimes.com via subscription.

On December 16, 1951, Teale began writing for the New York Times, producing the first of many nature articles and book reviews. In his first article, Teale wrote of the efforts to protect the wildlife areas and lamented the increasing urbanization and encroaching suburbs. Teale also wrote about the importance of contact with nature “to restore mental tone and health,” a common concern among conservationists during this time period.

Over the next few years, Teale produced compilations of selected nature writing, including Green Treasury: A Journey through the World’s Great Nature Writing (1952) and The Wilderness World of John Muir (1954), which made the New York Times “outstanding books of the year” list. [Buy it at the IHB Book Shop.] Reviewers called Teale “one of our most sensitive and observant naturalists” and among the “best of Americans writing about nature,” comparing him to Thoreau and Burroughs. Teale attended conservation fundraisers and entomological meetings. As his popularity grew, his earlier books were reprinted and adapted into children’s versions.

Edwin Way Teale, Autumn Across America (
Edwin Way Teale, Autumn Across America (W. Clement Stone, 1956), cover image accessed amazon.com.

In August 1956, Teale published Autumn Across America, the second book in the American Seasons series. This time, the Teales followed fall through twenty-six states from Cape Cod to California over three months. Autumn Across America received even greater acclaim than North with the Spring. It was presented to the White House Library and described as a “revelation of the seasonal wonders that lie around us and the reflections they caused in the searching mind and genial soul of the author.”

In 1959, the Teales left their Long Island home, due to increased population and suburbanization, and moved to a 130-acre estate in Hampton, Connecticut, which they named Trail Wood.

Richard Telford, "Edwin Way Teale’s writing cabin at Trail Wood," photograph, 2014, accessed Connecticut Audubon Society, http://www.ctaudubon.org/2014/01/trail-woods-artistwriter-in-residence-program/#sthash.4EEwoBKM.dpbs
Richard Telford, “Edwin Way Teale’s writing cabin at Trail Wood,” photograph, 2014, Connecticut Audubon Society, accessed http://www.ctaudubon.org/2014/01/trail-woods-artistwriter-in-residence-program/#sthash.4EEwoBKM.dpbs
Edwin Way Teale, Wandering Through Winter (Dodd, ) cover image accessed Amazon.com.
Edwin Way Teale, Wandering Through Winter (Dodd, ) cover image accessed Amazon.com.

In fall 1965, Teale published Wandering through Winter, the most celebrated of all his works. Teale covered a wide range of topics from beetles to whales to sunsets. The New York Times ran a laudatory review of Wandering through Winter, praising Teale’s work as without fault and his writing as combining the best of Thoreau, Hudson, and Muir. In May 1966, Teale became the first naturalist to win a Pulitzer Prize (for general nonfiction) for Wandering through Winter.

Although he continued to contribute introductions and chapters to colleagues’ books, and have his own books reprinted and adapted as children’s stories, his publishing slowed somewhat over the next decade. On October 10, 1970, Indiana University presented Teale with an honorary degree. In 1978, Teale produced his last work, A Walk through the Year. The book summarized a year with his wife Nellie at Trail Wood, highlighting the memorable experiences they shared.

Edwin Way Teale (at desk), photograph, 1970, Teale Papers, University of Connecticut Archives and Special Collections, accessed http://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A199714567
Edwin Way Teale (at desk), photograph, 1970, Teale Papers, University of Connecticut Archives and Special Collections, accessed http://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A199714567

On October 18, 1980, Teale died at the age of 81. On May 17, 1981, the Connecticut Audubon Society dedicated Trail Wood as the Edwin Way Teale Memorial Sanctuary, and it became steward of the property. Nellie remained at the farm until her death in 1993. In 1998, the University of Connecticut initiated the Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series. Visitors come to hike the grounds to see Teale’s landscape of “woods, open fields, swamps, two good-sized brooks and a waterfall.” Teale’s works continue to be reprinted, including a reissue of Dune Boy in 2002.

In 2009, the Indiana Historical Bureau, with the support of the Musette Lewry Trust, installed a state historical marker at the “Lone Oak” site where the brick cottage built by Teale still stands.

Edwin Way Teale State Historical Marker Dedication, May 30, 2009, photograph, Indiana Historical Bureau, accessed http://www.in.gov/history/EWTealeDed.htm
Edwin Way Teale State Historical Marker Dedication, May 30, 2009, photograph, Indiana Historical Bureau, accessed http://www.in.gov/history/EWTealeDed.htm

 

 

Jasper Sherman Bilby: To Map the Earth, Part II

Part one, covering Bilby’s early life and years working for the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, can be read here.

———————————————————-

A Bilby Steel Tower, 110 ft. high in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Photograph by Floyd Risvold. Courtesy of NOAA.
A Bilby Steel Tower, 110 ft. high in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Photograph by Floyd Risvold. Courtesy of NOAA.

Jasper Sherman Bilby’s time in the US Coast and Geodetic Survey (US C&GS) is best remembered for his invention, the Bilby Steel Tower. The tower revolutionized the Survey’s procedures, costs, and efficiency. As described by historian John Noble Wilford, the Bilby Tower was used for horizontal-control surveys (measuring latitude and longitude) and allowed surveyors to see over hills, trees, and other impediments to make their measurements more accurate.

In his manual, Bilby Steel Tower for Triangulation, Bilby detailed this problem of visibility:

In many regions it is not possible to select stations for a scheme of triangulation and have the stations intervisible from the ground, as trees, buildings, and other objects obstruct the line of vision between adjacent points. On geodetic surveys, covering wide expanses of territory, the curvature of the earth must also be taken into account. Towers are, therefore, necessary to elevate above intervening obstructions the observer and his instrument at one station and the signal lamp or object on which he makes his observations at the distant station.

According to US C&GS documents on his field assignments, Bilby began his designs on the tower as early as December 1926. He then took his early design plans to the Aeromotor Factory in Chicago to make a prototype. Once the prototype proved successful, twelve complete towers were manufactured by the same company and were first tested on assignment in Albert Lee, Minnesota with positive results.

A schematic drawing of the Bilby Steel Tower. Courtesy of NOAA.
A schematic drawing of the Bilby Steel Tower. Courtesy of NOAA.

In terms of design, the Bilby Tower was actually comprised of two independent towers. An inner tower carried the intricate instruments for survey calculations and the outer tower supported the surveyors who made the measurements. These towers never connected, so that the vibrations of either one did not disturb the survey calculations. In 1927, it was named the “Bilby Steel Tower” by Colonel Lester E. Jones, then director of the US C&GS.

In a 1927 commendation letter, Secretary of Commerce (and future President) Herbert Hoover commended Bilby’s invention for its cost and time efficiency and cited the surveyor’s service as essential to the United States government.

I have just learned, upon my return to Washington, of the excellent results which the Coast and Geodetic Survey is getting in its triangulation from the steel towers which you designed.

The accelerated progress of the work, accompanied by a reduction in its cost, is highly gratifying to me and justify the commendation which this letter conveys.

However, Hoover’s letter was not the only special commendations he received while in the US C&GS. He earned financial promotions through 1915- 1916 and in 1930, the position of “Chief Signalman” was created for him. Understanding Bilby’s work as essential to the US C&GS, President Hoover used an executive order in 1932 to waive the mandatory federal retirement age.

Letter from Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover to Jasper Sherman Bilby. Hoover commends Bilby for his invention of the Bilby Steel Tower. Courtesy of Surveyors Historical Society Collection.
Letter from Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover to Jasper Sherman Bilby. Hoover commends Bilby for his invention of the Bilby Steel Tower. Courtesy of Surveyors Historical Society Collection.

Within the first ten years of use, the Bilby Steel Tower saved the federal government $3,072,000, according to the itemized cost listing of both wooden and steel towers from 1927-1937 by the US C&GS field assignment reports. The 1928 US C&GS annual report explained how the implementation of Bilby Towers cut unit costs down by nearly half, much more than the projected 25-35% savings. It also increased their surveying progress to over “150 miles per month.”

Within a few years of its invention, the Bilby Steel Tower was used in nations such as France, Australia, Belgium, and Denmark. In particular, Major M. Hotine, Royal Engineer of the Ordinance Survey Office in Southampton, England, wrote of his satisfaction with the Bilby Steel Tower in the December 1938 issue of the US C&GS Field Engineers Bulletin:

We have just completed among other work this season, the primary observation for our new triangulation in the Eastern Counties of England. The country here is so flat and enclosed that we had to use Bilby Steel Towers at 34 of the main Stations [sic], to say nothing of several secondary stations surrounding such Steel Tower States, we thought it would be advisable to observe at the same time as the primary work. You may be interested to know that these admirable Steel Towers were entirely satisfactory; and that we were very deeply impressed with the conception, design, and construction of these Towers.

Along his invention, he wrote several government manuals on the theory and practice of geodetic surveying. His most famous and influential work was the manual on his invention, the Bilby Steel Tower. Bilby Steel Tower for Triangulation (1929) covered every aspect of his invention, from concept and construction to its usage and transport. It stayed in publication through two editions. Other manuals include Precise Traverse and Triangulation in Indiana (1922), Reconnaissance and Signal Building (1923), and Signal Building (1943).

Jasper Sherman (right) with his son and fellow surveyor Walter J. Bilby (left), circa 1926. Courtesy of Surveyor's Historical Society Collection.
Jasper Sherman (right) with his son and fellow surveyor Walter J. Bilby (left), circa 1926. Courtesy of Surveyor’s Historical Society Collection.

Bilby retired from the US C&GS in 1937. His final assignment was at a triangulation station in Hunt City, Jasper County, Illinois, completing his 53 year career exactly where it began on the 39th parallel. His 1927 manual for the Bilby Tower was revised for surveyors in 1940 and his work continued to influence the trade well into the 1980s. The last Bilby Tower was erected in 1984, in Connecticut. A complete survey tower, originally constructed on an island south of New Orleans, Louisiana called Couba in 1972, was restored and moved to the town park in Bilby’s hometown of Osgood, Ripley County, Indiana in 2014.

Bilby died on July 18, 1949 in Batesville, Indiana. He was buried in Washington Park Cemetery in Indianapolis. His long career and advancements in geodetic surveying technology, particularly on the 39th parallel, ensured the completion and accuracy of the National Spatial Reference System (NSRP), a first-order triangulation network of the United States.

The NSRP, according to the National Geodetic Survey, is a “consistent coordinate system that defines latitude, longitude, height, scale, gravity, and orientation throughout the United States.” This system’s continued use ensures accurate information for the United State’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), known domestically as the Global Positioning System (GPS).

The National Spatial Reference System. Bilby's work on the 39th Parallel laid the groundwork for the completion of this system. Today, it informs our GPS technologies. Courtesy of NOAA.
The National Spatial Reference System. Bilby’s work on the 39th Parallel laid the groundwork for the completion of this network of survey points. Today, it informs the US’s GPS technologies. Courtesy of NOAA.

Jasper Sherman Bilby’s innovation and inventiveness left an indelible mark on surveying in the United States and the world. His Bilby Steel Tower, and the knowledge it advanced, revolutionized mapmaking for generations.

In short, Bilby helped us map the earth.

Jasper Sherman Bilby: To Map the Earth, Part I

Surveyor Jasper Sherman Bilby on assignement in Minnesota, 1903. Courtesy of NOAA.
Surveyor Jasper Sherman Bilby on assignment in Minnesota, 1903. Courtesy of NOAA.

Indiana’s history is rich with inventors and pioneers. Philo T. Farnsworth, who lived in Fort Wayne for over a decade, invented the television and designed an early model of a fusion reactor. Elwood Haynes, Kokomo native and scientific prodigy, designed and assembled one of the first horseless carriages in the United States. Another Hoosier whose scientific mind for innovation proved indispensable to the nation was Jasper Sherman Bilby. His steel surveying tower radically reshaped the accuracy of map making and left a permanent mark on the way we view the United States.

Jasper Sherman Bilby (known as “J.S.”) was born in Rush County, Indiana on July 16, 1864 to Jasper N. Bilby and Margaret E. (Hazard) Bilby. Bilby’s early life has a rather tragic side; his father committed suicide in 1877 after being arrested for the sexual assault of one of his daughters. This hardship forced Bilby to leave school and to work on the family farm for a number of years in Fayette County to support his widowed mother.  After his marriage to Luella Cox in 1891, Bilby moved to Ripley County as early as 1893, according to Ripley County deed index books.

Plat book image of the Bilby Homestead, 1921. Coutesy of Ball State University.
Plat book image of the Bilby Homestead near Osgood, Ripley County, 1921. Courtesy of Ball State University.

Bilby joined the United States Coast & Geodetic Survey in September of 1884. Congress established this agency, originally called the United States Survey of the Coast, on February 10, 1807. Initially under the purview of the Treasury Department, the survey was reorganized under the US Department of Commerce in 1878 and renamed the United States Coast & Geodetic Survey (US C&GS). Today, it is under the umbrella of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and called the National Geodetic Survey (NGS).

Geodetic surveying is the geographical analysis of an area of land or bodies of water, accounting for the shape and curvature of the Earth. According to the NGS official website, the National Geodetic Survey, from its inception in 1807, has ensured accurate data for government and commercial purposes, such as “mapping and charting, navigation, flood risk determination, transportation, [and] land use and ecosystem management.” Additionally, the National Geodetic Survey’s work provides “authoritative spatial data, models, and tools [that] are vital for the protection and management of natural and manmade resources and support the economic prosperity and environmental health of the Nation.”

Bilby conducted his first survey work in Illinois along the 39th parallel. According to surveyor Raymond Stanton Patton, the 39th parallel was a line of latitude that spanned from Cape May, New Jersey to Point Area, California, and was the “first great piece of geodetic work accomplished by the Survey….”  His official position within the US C&GS for most of his career was that of “signalman.” A signalman uses flags or signal lights to indicate points within a geometric calculation between two survey points, usually between a point on shore and a point within a body of water. This practice ensures that those making the calculations on shore accurately represent the point in water.

A map of the 39th Parallel Arc. According to NOAA, it served as the "first great geodetic arc in the western hemisphere ." Courtesy of NOAA.
A map of the 39th parallel arc. According to NOAA, it served as the “first great geodetic arc in the western hemisphere .” Courtesy of NOAA.

Bilby traveled 511,400 miles during his 53 years in the US C&GS, from Illinois to California, according to his career field reports. Newspapers throughout the country recorded his cross-country traveling for the US C&GS, notably his work in states like Louisiana and Texas. Department of Commerce publications also chronicle his time in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Georgia, detailing his work in specific counties. In 1920, Bilby and his team surveyed the majority of Wisconsin and Illinois, providing exact coordinates for most regions adjacent to water. In these surveys, Bilby used the Traverse method of surveying, which is less accurate but quicker to calculate than Triangulation. (The traverse method uses pointed lines for measurements while triangulation uses angular measurements based on triangles.) Bilby and his team completed surveys within the Rio Grande valley in 1917, specifically from Harlington to Dryden. His efforts in the eastern area of the Rio Grande ensured more accurate measurements, adding to the US C&GS’s triangulation of the American west.

A 1926 article published in Popular Mechanics provides some of Bilby’s own words about his job, especially its difficulty before his invention and some personal stories. One of Bilby’s tasks within the US C&GS was reconnaissance, which is the practice of marking triangulation stations before the main survey party arrives. This cuts down on their work and ensures accuracy in their measurements. He told the magazine about the harsh weather and loneliness that often accompanies a surveyor’s life:

Especially…when the wind is howling through the trees, and the rain is pattering down on the tent, and you know there’s little change of anyone dropping by.

An artistic depiction of a wooden survey tower, in the July 1926 issue of Popular Mechanics. Courtesy of Google Books.
An artistic depiction of a wooden survey tower, in the July 1926 issue of Popular Mechanics. Courtesy of Google Books.

Nevertheless, he enjoyed his work and appreciated how radio was improving the public’s knowledge of the work of the US C&GS. Bilby notes:

Radio has made the coast and geodetic survey known more than it used to be. A few years ago people were always asking what the name meant, but now I often find they know us pretty well, from talks they’ve heard on the air. One lecture on mountain building which was broadcast from Washington was the means of getting me a fine dinner. I had stopped at a farmhouse to make inquiries and the farmer noticed my ‘geodetic’ tag. He mentioned this talk he’d heard, and when I said it must have been given by the chief of my division, Major Bowie, he became so interested that he made me stay to dinner and answer his questions. However, that wasn’t unwelcome after eating my own cooking for so long.

This story was published a year before the first usage of the Bilby Steel Tower, when wooden towers were still standard equipment.

His early years as a geodetic surveyor, particularly his negative experiences with wooden survey towers, would influence his greatest contribution to the field: the invention of the Bilby Steel Tower.

———————————————————-

Bilby’s influential invention, the Bilby Steel Tower, will be covered in Part II.