Weeks Act Exhibition at Silver Center

March 20th, 2010 by Adam

Plymouth, N.H.—In honor of the centennial of the Weeks Act of 1911, which authorized the federal government to purchase and maintain lands in the eastern United States as national forests, Plymouth State University has created the exhibition, Protecting the Forests: The Weeks Act of 1911.

The exhibition opens at the Silver Center for the Arts with a reception from 4–6 p.m. Wednesday, March 3 and runs through April 11. A virtual exhibition and additional research materials will be online March 3 at plymouth.edu/go/WeeksExhibit.

Protecting the Forests addresses the history, social significance and ecological impact of the Weeks Act through images of historical photographs, prints from glass plates and daguerreotypes, accompanied by explanatory text.

Research and writing by project humanists Marcia Schmidt Blaine and Linda Upham-Bornstein are the foundation of this educational project.

The Weeks Act created a truly national forest system, but what brought it about? Prior to 1911 neither federal nor state governments owned any substantial forested lands east of the Mississippi. The tourist industry promoted the White Mountains as a place for quiet rejuvenation and contemplation; but timber, railroad, mining, textile and agricultural groups had different uses for the forest resources.

The various uses for the forest raised broader questions such as whether it is constitutional for the government to purchase private lands for public conservation purposes? What impact would the purchase have on both the economic and physical environments of the region? Was “scenery” of value?

In early 1901, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests was created to save the mountains. Their forester, Philip Ayres, ran a national campaign arguing that the White Mountains were a national treasure.

Focusing on watershed and forest preservation, New Hampshire congressmen introduced the first White Mountain forest bill into Congress in December 1903. Over the next several years the bill moved slowly through various committees and hearings. In 1906, southern forest advocates who wanted to preserve a large stretch of the southern Appalachian Mountains joined New Englanders in calling for the creation of eastern national forests. They created a bill that focused on multiple use.

Even with President Theodore Roosevelt’s explicit support, the bill stalled in Congress until Congressman John W. Weeks took interest. Weeks was a New Hampshire native and a summer resident of Lancaster. He rewrote the national forest bill, combining forest preservation with watershed protection and fire control, and after a series of lobbying efforts the Weeks Act became law in 1911.

PSU Director of Exhibitions Catherine Amidon says the exhibition and related events provide an important opportunity to bring people together, both physically and virtually, to share knowledge and appreciation of the unique culture and heritage of the region. In partnership with the PSU Center for Rural Partnerships, the traveling exhibition and related events will reach far beyond Plymouth.

A program of speakers sponsored by the Karl Drerup Gallery and the Center for Rural Partnerships enriches the exhibition.

The programs, which are open to the public free of charge, include:

• March 8: “The Impact of North Country Community and Collaboration in the Weeks Act of 1911” by Rebecca Weeks Sherrill More. 4:30–5:30 p.m., Heritage Commons on Highland Street.

• March 12: “Two Centuries of Tourism in the White Mountains: A Region Comes Full Cycle” by Mark Okrant. 1 p.m., Heritage Commons.

• March 16: “Making the National Forests National: The Weeks Act and the Expansion of Federal Forestry” by Char Miller. 6:30–7:30 p.m., Heritage Commons.

• March 30: “Working Forests: From Market Revolution to Industrialization” by Linda Upham-Bornstein. 6:30¬–7:30 p.m., Heritage Commons.

• April 1: “Saving the Mountains: Joseph B Walker, Phillip Ayers and the Weeks Act of 1911. Marcia Schmidt Blaine. 4 p.m., Heritage Commons.

• April 9: “Stories of New Hampshire and the Forests.” Rebecca Rule. 2¬–3:30 p.m., Plymouth Regional Senior Center, downtown Plymouth.

The exhibition and didactic texts will tour in New Hampshire starting in 2010 to raise regional awareness, while the online components from images to standards-based educational materials reach broader international audiences.

Plymouth State University’s initiatives are being launched prior to the numerous statewide events for 2011 that are being planned by partner organizations such as Weeks State Park, Weeks State Park Association, WhiteMountainHistory.org, the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire, the White Mountains Institute at PSU and many more.

Protecting the Forests is funded in part by the New Hampshire Humanities Council.

The Silver Center is open Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–5 p.m. and weekends, noon–6 p.m.; closed holidays and PSU vacations.

For information about “Protecting the Forests,” call the Karl Drerup Art Gallery, (603) 535-2416 or log on to plymouth.edu/go/WeeksExhibit.

For general information about events at PSU, log on to ThisWeek@PSU. http://thisweek.blogs.plymouth.edu.


Upper left: “Logging Railroad Trestle and Cutover Slopes, 1903,” U.S. Forest Service, Eastern Region photograph. Courtesy of the Forest History Society, Durham, N.C.

Middle right: “Burn at Cutts Grant,” U.S. Forest Service, Eastern Region photograph. Courtesy of the Forest History Society, Durham, N.C.