America’s First Forest
Teaching Materials

Drawn from Carl Alwin Schenck's memoir Cradle of Forestry in America, the documentary America's First Forest: Carl Schenck and the Asheville Experiment is the first feature-length film to examine the pivotal role of Biltmore Estate chief forester Carl Schenck and America’s first school of forestry in American history. Though the conservation movement and professional forestry began on the Biltmore Forest—now preserved and celebrated as the Cradle of Forestry in America National Historic Site—Carl Schenck remains an unheralded early leader of both. 

Outside of Asheville, N.C., in the 1890s George Vanderbilt built his dream home and established a working farm and forest to meet its needs. In 1895, he hired Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck, a German forester, to manage his estate's 100,000-acre forest for timber, game, fishing, and camping. Much of it needed a forester's trained hand to restore it.

With so much land to manage, Schenck began hiring young men to assist him. After three years of answering their questions, he established the Biltmore Forest School—the first forestry school in the United States. Schenck lectured in the mornings and the students worked the land in the afternoons, gaining practical forestry training in a one-year program. As Schenck noted with pride, "My boys worked continuously in the woods, while those at other schools saw wood only on their desks." Many of the nearly 400 men who graduated from the went on to become leaders in the lumber, timber, and forestry fields.

America's First Forest, the Emmy Award–winning film about Carl Schenck and the first forestry school in the U.S., is 55 minutes long. A shorter version called First in Forestry is 28 minutes long. The two films are on one DVD. The films will teach students about the impact of the industrial revolution on the American forests, and the origins of forest management, professional forestry, and the conservation movement in the U.S.

The film worksheets are designed for students to fill out while watching the films. The Discussion questions can be used either to facilitate discussion with students or for the basis of written assignments. We encourage teachers to review the questions in advance. The answers provided are designed to give teachers a starting point for discussion.

Below are worksheets that meet NC 8th Grade Social Studies standards. The first set is for America's First Forest, the longer version of the film. (Download all four documents as one document by clicking HERE.)

Film worksheet [PDF] Discussion question sheet [PDF]
Film worksheet answers [PDF] Discussion question sheet answers [PDF]

These are for First in Forestry, the SHORTER version of the film. (Download all four documents as one document by clicking HERE)

Film worksheet [PDF] Discussion question sheet [PDF]
Film worksheet answers [PDF] Discussion question sheet answers [PDF]

These materials were made possible through funding from the U.S. Forest Service.

If you have questions, please contact Jamie Lewis.

Here are some books, articles, blog posts, and other internet resources related to Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School:

Carl Alwin Schenck, Cradle of Forestry in America: The Biltmore Forest School, 1898–1913 (Forest History Society, 1955, 2011). Dr. Schenck's account of his life in forestry in the United States and the history of the Biltmore Forest School. The book was used as the main source of information for the film.

Bill Alexander, The Biltmore Nursery: A Botanical Legacy (Natural History Press, 2007). See the chapter "A Model Forest" to understand how the forestry work fit in with the overall vision for the Biltmore Estate.

Charles E. Beveridge and Susan L. Klaus, The Olmsteds at Biltmore: Frederick Law Olmsted, Senior (National Association for Olmsted Parks, 1995). Biographical sketches of landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. (1822-1903) and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (1870-1957) focusing on their design of the grounds at the Biltmore Estate.

Denise Kiernan, The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home (Touchstone, 2017). Details the stories behind the lives of Edith and George Vanderbilt, and the building and management of the Biltmore Estate. Includes discussion of Gifford Pinchot, Carl Schenck, the Biltmore Forest School, forest management at the estate, and the creation of Pisgah National Forest.

James G. Lewis, The Forest Service and The Greatest Good: A Centennial History (Forest History Society, 2005). This history of the federal land management agency includes information on the early days of the forest conservation movement and forestry education.

Douglas MacCleery, American Forests: A History of Resiliency and Recovery (Forest History Society, 2011). Provides a general overview of the history of human interaction with America's forest, from Native American uses of the forest to today.

Char Miller, Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism (Island Press, 2001). An award-winning biography of Gifford Pinchot that includes information about Pinchot's time as Schenck's predecessor at Biltmore Estate.

Frederick Law Olmsted; Charles Capen McLaughlin, Charles E. Beveridge, David Schuyler, Jane Turner Censer, eds. The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, Vol IX: The Last Great Projects, 1890–1895 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015). The edited papers from Olmsted's final professional years, including the Biltmore Estate project.

Gifford Pinchot, Biltmore Forest: The Property of Mr. George W. Vanderbilt; an Account of Its Treatment, and the the Results of the First Year's Work (1893). Pinchot's account of his first year of work at the Biltmore Estate, prepared for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Gifford Pinchot, Breaking New Ground (1947; Island Press, 1998). The memoir of the Biltmore Estate's first forester and the founding chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Harold T. Pinkett, Gifford Pinchot: Private and Public Forester (University of Illinois Press, 1970). This short biography focused on Pinchot's forestry career includes his time at Biltmore.

Marci Spencer, Pisgah National Forest: A History (The History Press, 2014). The Pisgah National Forest exists in large part because of the work and vision of Vanderbilt, Olmsted, Pinchot, and Schenck. The opening chapters capture that history.


"Forest Giant," Newsweek, July 16, 1951, 81–82. An article in the popular news magazine about Schenck and his school, written at the time of his tour of America.

Bill Alexander, “History on the Road: Asheville, North Carolina, and the Cradle of Forestry,” Forest History Today Spr./Fall 2011: 103-09.

Austin Cary, "An Appreciation of Dr. Schenck," Forestry Quarterly (Dec. 1914): 562–66.

Harley Jolley, "Biltmore Forest Fair, 1908," Forest History, Vol. 14, No. 1 (April 1970): 6-17.

Harley Jolley, "The Cradle of Forestry: Where Tree Power Started," Forest History Today (Spring/Fall 1998): 18–20.

James G. Lewis, "The Pinchot Family and the Battle to Establish American Forestry," Pennsylvania History Vol. 66, No. 2 (Spring 1999): 143–65.

Elwood R. Maunder, "Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck: German Pioneer in the Field of American Forestry," Paper Maker (September 1954): 17–30.

Edward Stuart, Jr., "German Forestry during the American Occupation: Dr. Schenck's Pivotal Role," Journal of Forest History (Oct. 1985): 169–74.

Bowling Yates, "On the Trail of Dr. Schenck," American Forests (December 1973), 28–31, 60–61.

From the FHS blog Peeling Back the Bark

"On this date in 1895, Carl Schenck arrived from Germany to the United States to replace Gifford Pinchot as forester at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina..."

"On November 26, 1908, Dr. Carl Schenck, resident forester at George W. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate and founder of the Biltmore Forest School, opened a three-day forestry fair on the Biltmore grounds. At a time when forestry work in America was still very much in its infancy..."

"On this day in 1964, foresters, government officials, and others gathered near Asheville, North Carolina, at the site of the historic Biltmore Forest School..."

Historian James Lewis shares his thoughts about visiting the memorial grove named for Carl Schenck in northern California.

Internet Resources
From the Forest History Society

Biltmore Forest School Images, ca. 1890s – ca. 1988
Collection of 22 black-and-white and color images of the Biltmore Forest School, the first forestry school in the United States (1898–1913), and of the Cradle of Forestry in America historic site, which commemorates the history of the Biltmore Forest School and the origins of forest conservation in North Carolina.

Jonathan Keith Esser Collection, 1899–1920
Letters written by and photographs taken or collected by Jonathan Keith Esser (1893–1963), a Pennsylvania forester and coal industry worker who graduated from the Biltmore Forest School in 1911. The materials primarily document Esser’s training while a forestry student, but also e.g. his work during 1912 while a member of a U.S. Forest Service reconnaissance team in the Southern Appalachian Mountains region.

Early Forestry Education in North Carolina Oral History Interview Collection, 1959
Interviews conducted in 1959 with four foresters—Inman Fowler "Cap" Eldredge, Clarence F. Korstian, Reuben B. Robertson, and George H. Wirt—who reminisce about their experiences at the Biltmore Forest School and their careers.

Images from "The Dawn of Private Forestry in America, Recollections of a Forester Covering the Years 1895 to 1914," a manuscript by Carl Alwin Schenck, 1954
Includes 186 black-and-white photographic images dating from the 1890s to the 1910s that supplemented the written memoirs of Carl Alwin Schenck (1868–1955), who managed the Biltmore Estate woodlands and founded the forest school there.

Forestry Lectures of Carl Alwin Schenck, 1904–1909
Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck's lectures on the topics of forest policy and forest protection, published in 1904 and 1909. Schenck gave these lectures to students attending the Biltmore Forest School, and decided to publish them because few relevant forestry education textbooks existed in the United States at that time.

The Biltmore Forestry Fair Collection, 1908–1909
Collection of seven articles published in American Lumberman magazine from September 1908 to January 1909 reporting on the Forest Festival held November 26–29, 1908, at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The event spotlighted scientific forestry techniques for guests including industry representatives, foresters, and others.

Biltmore Forest School Alumni Reunion, 1950 (PDF)
"Flowers for the Living," a 31-page booklet published by The Biltmore Reunion Committee to commemorate a reunion of alumni of the Biltmore Forest School held from May 28–31, 1950, at the George Vanderbilt Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina. Former teachers and students attended the reunion, where they reminisced about their experiences at the school and about the school's founder and director, Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck.

The Alfred Cunningham Papers, 1910, 1931–1937
Papers generated and collected by Alfred "Charlie" Cunningham, an American printer who attended the Biltmore Forest School in 1910. Includes e.g., correspondence from Cunningham to his sister while he was on a field trip to Europe in 1910 and 1930s letters from former Biltmore Forest School director Carl Alwin Schenck.

From NC State University
Carl Alwin Schenck Papers 1890–1959
Carl Alwin Schenck, Photographs
Biltmore Forest School Photographs