Timeline for the Department of Forestry: Evolution in Focus and Name
by Hannah Begley, January 2012

(Note: all quotations are from the Annual Report of the year cited. Click here for an abbreviated timeline.)

The museum began collecting samples of North American woods for an Economic Botany Department in 1880.

By 1881 nearly 500 specimens of North American woods have been collected, and they are temporarily displayed in the upper story of the Arsenal. There is noted concern that the Arsenal is not a fireproof display area, and in 1882 the collection of American Forestry is moved to a “large glass case” in the “Lower Hall” of the museum. At this time it is known as the collection of American Forestry, one section of the Economic Department.

In 1903 funding began for a Department of Forestry. In 1907 President Morris K. Jesup funded it substantially, and in 1908 the Forestry Department was officially established and documented as containing the “Jesup Collection of North American Forestry”. No mention is made as to the location of the collection and whether it has moved from the “Lower Hall” of the museum or if this is what is later referred to as the Forestry Hall.

In the 1909 Annual report it was referred to as the Department of Woods and Forestry, and Mary C. Dickerson was listed as “in charge”. Also in 1909, “the Jesup Collection of North American Woods is being rearranged and installed in a way to bring out more clearly the classification of trees, their relationship and their economic uses.”

The “Jesup Hall of Woods and Forestry” was referenced in the 1910 Annual Report, but no note was made of when this hall was completed or when the wood collection was moved there. Therefore the “Jesup Hall of Woods and Forestry” is presumably the “Lower Hall” of the museum referenced in 1882.

After Dickerson left the museum in 1919 there was no curator of the Jesup Collection of North American Woods. (This is the collection associated with the Department of Woods and Forestry, and located in the Jesup Hall of Woods and Forestry, which is referred to interchangeably as the Forestry Hall).

From 1920-1938 Dr. Frederic A. Lucas served as honorary curator of the Department of Woods and Forestry, but there are no references to the department in the Annual Reports (indicating the Department of Woods and Forestry had no staff members during this period). There is a corresponding gap in the Forestry Hall Papers of this period, also indicating that the department ceased to actively exist from 1920-1938. During this period the Forestry Hall was referenced in the Annual Reports as the site of temporary exhibitions, leading to the assumption that the Jesup Collection of North American Woods was no longer on display in the Forestry Hall but rather was being stored in the museum (or elsewhere).

In the AMNH Department of Preparation and Installation Diorama and Hall Construction Records 1919-1962 (DR104 box 2 of 6), Albert E. Butler is referenced as the “informal curator” of the Forestry Department. At this time there is discussion of cleaning the wood samples in the Forestry Hall, thus providing the first confirmation since 1920 that the wood specimens collected by Jesup are still on display in the museum.

In the 1938 Annual Report, the Department of Woods and Forestry was reestablished (though it was never officially disbanded). Clarence L. Hay was appointed Honorary Curator, and Dr. Charles Russell was Staff Associate for the department.

In 1939 the Department of Woods and Forestry was officially renamed the Department of Forestry and Conservation. At this time the department staff is as follows: Clarence L. Hay, Honorary Curator; Charles Russell, Executive Curator; H. E. Anthony, Robert Cushman Murphy and Willard G. Van Name, Advisory Associates. There is no record of these men in the Forestry Hall Papers.

Though Clarence L. Hay was honorary curator to the Department of Forestry and Conservation from 1938-1942, Robert Marston, Assistant Curator, managed the daily activities and correspondence for the department (as seen in the Forestry Hall Papers). Interestingly, Marston was not mentioned in the Annual Reports until 1942, when he is listed as a Scientific Assistant to the Department of Forestry and Conservation.

In 1945-1946 the department was renamed the Department of Forestry and General Botany following the conclusion that the forestry industry had outgrown the museum.

In 1946-1947, Henry K. Svenson (1897-1986), formerly Curator of the Herbarium at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, was appointed Consultant in the Department of Forestry and General Botany. Svenson oversaw the planning and construction of the Landscape Hall beginning in 1949.

The Landscape Hall was completed in 1953, the same year that the Department of Forestry and General Botany was transformed into the Department of Conservation and General Ecology. Richard Pough, Chairman of the Department of Conservation and General Ecology, and his assistant Jack McCormick took over construction of the Hall of North American Forests. In 1956-1957 the Department of Conservation and General Ecology became the Department of Vegetation Studies, and in 1958 the Hall of North American Forests opened to the public.

In the 1959-1960 Annual Report, Vegetation Studies was listed under special activities of the museum, no longer as a separate department. The 1960-1961 Annual Report announces the official “termination of the Museum’s full-time staff program in vegetation studies.”

A proposal for a Hall of Botany, to be planned and constructed by the Department of Vegetation Studies, was mentioned in the 1957-1958 Annual Report. It was again mentioned in the 1959-1960 Annual Report. No mention was made of the Botany Hall in the Annual Reports after 1959-1960.

 

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