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The Weeks Act of 1911

Jefferson, New Hampshire 1885. Courtesy of Mary Jane Chase.

The 1911 Weeks Act created a truly national forest system, authorizing the federal government to purchase and maintain land in the eastern U.S. as national forests. Neither federal nor state governments owned any substantial forested lands east of the Mississippi. Where mountains and forests met, tourist, timber, hotel, railroad, mining, textile, and agricultural groups competed to have the land meet their needs. The discussion grew contentious: Was it 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?

Typical Logging Camp. Guy L. Shorey Collection, Mount Washington Observatory.

In the mountains of New Hampshire, the arguments met reality. Tourists and hotel proprietors discovered the region by the 1830s, while the timber industry and the railroad moved in largely after the Civil War. For tourists, the White Mountains were a refuge from the industrial chaos of the cities. It was, of course, that chaos which provided the financial means for upper- and middle-class tourists to explore the mountains and for hotel owners to build hotels with increasingly sophisticated amenities to house them. None of the industries were sustainable as they were practiced in the late nineteenth century. From the late nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries, a widening group of mountain forest advocates employed utilitarian and aesthetic reasoning to protect “their” White Mountains.

Clear Cuts with Roads. Larrabee Collection, Photographs, Special Collections, New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord, NH.