E. Bertram Pike Tract US #59
The First Tract of Land Acquired for the White Mountain National Forest
Benton, New Hampshire
January 2, 1914
Written by David Govatski, December 3, 2013
The Town of Benton on the western slopes of the White Mountains played an important role in White Mountain history. The first tract of land acquired for the future White Mountain National Forest was the E. Bertram Pike Tract. This tract consisted of 7,072 acres, all in Benton. The tract was acquired on January 2,1914 at a price of $13.25 per acre. This tract includes Oliverian Pond, portions of the South Peak of Mount Moosilauke, a ridge known as the Hogback, portions of Black Mountain, and the west slope of Hurricane Mountain.
President Woodrow Wilson formally established the White Mountain National Forest on May 16, 1918 after the White Mountain Forest Reserve reached a sufficient size to be managed as a national forest. The authorizing legislation was the Weeks Act of March 1, 1911. As a result of the Weeks Act, a National Forest Reservation Commission was created in 1911 to determine the acquisition boundaries. This acquisition boundary was called the Proclamation Boundary and it specified where land can be acquired without special rules.
Approval of the Proclamation Boundary allowed the US Forest Service to begin acquiring land in 1914, even before the White Mountain National Forest was formally established in 1918. Lands were purchased by a team of foresters led by William Logan Hall who, in a little over a year, purchased a quarter million acres from willing sellers.
Karl Woodward and E. D. Fletcher, Forest Examiners for the US Forest Service appraised the property and prepared a report in February of 1912. They determined a valuation of the land with standing timber and that value was $120,078 or $17 per acre. This value reflected the proximity of access roads such as the North-South Road and the nearby Boston and Maine Railroad that could be used to haul the wood to markets elsewhere.
Woodward and Fletcher were experienced forest examiners and appraisers. The procedure to determine a fair market value for a tract of land involved surveying the parcel and determining how much commercial timber was present, was it accessible, how close were access roads or railroads, and how much “non-productive” land was present. The cost of obtaining a clear title was also an important part of the final appraisal process. Attorneys had to obtain quit-claim deeds from scores of people who had a claim or interest on the several parcels of land Pike was selling. This cost was deducted from the final appraised value.
The US Government made an offer of $93,705.19 or $13.25 per acre for the 7,072 acres of land. Bertram Pike accepted the offer and the records indicate he and the Pike Woodlands Company were paid on January 2, 1914. Pike sold additional lands to the US Government over the next few years. Pike apparently felt that the government offer was fair market value.
I computed the value of the purchase price and per acre cost in 1914 dollars compared with the value of 2013 dollars. In todays money the value would be $2,194,097.65 or $310.25 per acre.
The second acquisition for the future White Mountain National Forest was the Berlin Timber Land Company, US #11 on January 20, 1914. This acquisition was for 30,296 acres in the Northern Presidential Range, Wild River and Cherry Mountain regions. Some histories erroneously report this as the first acquisition.
The first WMNF map for the public was issued in 1914 with a title of White Mountain Region instead of National Forest. The maps were then free for the asking. The 1914 map showed the first three large acquisitions including the two previously mentioned and a large tract of land in Bethlehem in the headwaters of the Gale River. The map was black and white and used simple hachure lines to denote topography. Later maps used color, contour lines and illustrations or photos and were printed on both sides.
Today the White Mountain National Forest is nearly 800,000 acres in size. The Pike Tract in Benton was the first land acquired and made an important contribution to the history of the White Mountain National Forest. The land is productive and appreciated by many hikers, hunters, anglers and other visitors. The streams run clear, the trees grow tall and the wildlife is abundant. The forested landscape is dramatic with many cliffs and ledges visible.