The Biltmore immortals: biographies of 50 American boys graduating from the Biltmore Forest School which was the first school of American Forestry on American soil. Volumes I and II 1953-1957 Darmstadt, L.C. Wittich

SEP 24 '01  09:28AM FOREST DISCOVERY CENTER                                                                            P.1



















1002 Pisgah Highway • Pisgah Forest, North Carolina 28768 • (82B) 877-3130




Re-typed 09-07-2011 Special Collections, Ramsey Library, UNCA

Notes: Biographical, Autobiographical and Otherwise


Verne Rhoades

   I will be briefly factual as to years between my birth on September 10, 1881, in a town of Graham, Missouri, and the year 1903 when I graduated from William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri.  My parents were pioneers in that section of northwest Missouri known as The Platte Purchase.  My grandfather Rhoades was born in Orange County, Virginia, and moved to Missouri in 1820.  My father, Marcus M. Rhoades, was born on the home farm near Slater, Missouri, June 10, 1840.  He served in the Confederate Army for four years.  At the close of the conflict he went back home.  He later entered a medical college in St. Louis and after graduating in 1868, located in Graham where as a real and horse and buggy doctor, he practiced for 55 years.  My mother, Mary Bond, was a young school teacher at the time she and my father first met.  They were married in 1872 and lived where they began housekeeping for sixty years.  Mother was a descendant of the first white settler on Nantucket Island who took up his abode there in 1638 or 1639. Father passed away in 1931 and Mother in 1934.

   Among the recollections of childhood one of the most vivid was that we always had a number of horses at the service or pleasure of the household.  There were four of us boys and we learned to ride and drive and handle horses early in life.  The favorite horse of the family, and of the countryside was Selim. Father had bought this animal as a two year old colt and had trained him well. Selim was a handsome steed, white all over, full of life, highly-intelligent, well-formed and without blemish.  When any of us boys in learning to ride bareback fell off he would stop dead in his tracks, wait for us to get up and lead him to a fence or a high bank from which we mounted again. We never knew anything about his origin.  We thought him to be of Arabian blood.  He had the courage, the intelligence, the conformation and the endurance of that breed.  In his old age he was left to do as he pleased.  He died in his 33rd year down in the pasture whence I used to ride him back and forth with such glee.  I gave him his last mouthful of food and raised his head for his last drink of water on the day he died.  What a royal companion he had been all through my boyhood!  What a fond recollection I hold of him and of our good times together!

   I completed my elementary schooling in the local schools and went to Clarinda, Iowa, for high school for two years.  Ascertaining that I could enter William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri, as a freshman I left high school after completing my junior year and began my college career in the fall of 1899. I graduated in 1903.  I took a job in a retail lumberyard in Cordell, Oklahoma.  There I fell ill with typhoid,  In this I was conferred to bed for 5 weeks. While convalescing one of my brothers mailed to me a catalog of the Biltmore Forest School.  I read it from cover to cover, not once, but many times. I had not heard of forestry before, but this outline of the life of a forester and the possibilities of a career in a pioneer profession fired my imagination a nothing else had ever done to that moment. Then and there I decided that when I regained my strength I would study at Biltmore.  I sent for certain government pamphlets among them Gifford Pinchot’s Primer of Forestry, published in two small volumes.  These were written in simple, clear prose and easily understood.  They further strengthened my purpose to study forestry.

   I reported to Dr. Schenck at his office within the Biltmore Estate on January 1, 1906. He received me cordially and asked me to sit down for a few minutes while he finished some dictation in his private office.  While sitting there another man entered, smiled amiably at me and came seizing my arm in one hand and the arm of the approaching gentleman in the other he said: “Dr. Howe, I want you to meet Dr. Blank of Yale Forest School.”  Before I could say a word Dr. Howe shook hands looking a bit surprised, I thought.  All the while Dr. Schenck was praising me to Dr. Howe saying how

nice it was for me to come down from Yale and lecture to the boys on dendrology.  He requested Dr. Howe to take me to the assembly room and introduce me to the students and let me start my lecture.  Through all of this torrent of words I had not been able to interject a word of explanation.  I finally did break through to say that I was the new student and had never been near Yale.  Dr. Schenck was greatly embarrassed for a moment, threw his hand in the air, exclaiming: “Oh my God. I forgot I left you in here.  Forgive me, please. Anyway I am glad that Dr. Blank is not in hearing distance.  He might go back to Yale since I have mistaken a new student for a professor!’ He continued: “I will tell you and Dr. Howe something off the record. Dr. Blank stayed at my house last night.  While we were coming down the driveway this morning he asked me what species of pine were growing along it. I told him Pinus strobes. Now don’t you think that was a funny question to come from a dendrologist of Yale since white pine grows naturally overall New England?” That was my introduction to Schenck, to Howe (Biltmore dendrologist) to Biltmore, and in absentia, to Yale.

   Several things about the class room that morning astonished me.  The students smoked at will and the room was filled with smoke from cigarettes and pipes.  The scratch of matches was noisy and frequent.  Dress was most informal with flannel shirts open at the throat, woolen or khaki trousers tucked into half boots and jackets of varied colors.  Some dressed in cowboy style and even carried out the western atmosphere by [unintelligible].  A few had notebooks. Others apparently preferred to smoke and retain instruction. All were affable and friendly, healthy, attentive.  Most of them hailed from New England and he Lake States.  The South and the Middle West had few.  They were a high-spirited group.  Some of students were not above committing a few pranks around town.  The news of this got back to Mr. Vanderbilt.  As a result, Dr. Schenck built Sangerfest Hall, an attractive one room structure located where the new Biltmore Dairy now stands in Biltmore village. Here the students assembled on Friday evenings, filled their steins from a small keg of beer and sang their songs, the lyrics of many of them written by some of their own number.  They usually had some one make a talk.  They had sufficient enjoyment at these parties to last over the weekend. From the time this hall was built there was little criticism from the town’s citizens.

   There were few dull hours in the day during the twelve months it took to cover the entire curriculum of the school.  Customarily the staff lectured in the morning and field work was assigned for the afternoon.  Since there were no holidays a great deal of ground was covered during the year.  The impact of instruction on the minds of the students could hardly fail to be beneficial.  Anyone who came to the school with a serious purpose also went out with it intact, and buttressed with a knowledge of forestry technique a well as with a high degree of [unintelligible] .

   After my own exit in December, 1906, I worked at jobs in various places.  I was the purchasing agent of a lumber company in southern Alabama for a year.  I did several jobs for C.A. Schenck Company which contracted for timber estimates of lands throughout the southeastern states.  I went to New Mexico as a technical assistant on the Alamo National Forest. I returned to the East, and soon as Forest Examiner in the U.S. Forest Service, had charge of field parties in widely separate sections of the Southern Appalachians valuing timber lands offered for purchase under The Weeks Act. This  continued for two or three years.   I made the reconnaissance of the Boone Purchase Area around Grandfather Mountain and Blowing Rock.  I did the same in the South Mountains south of Morganton.   I inspected the Cumberlands in  Kentucky  and Tennessee.    I worked all over  North Georgia, northwestern South Carolina and southwestern Virginia.  As a sidelight on the sort of solitary life I led for several months in these reconnaissance’s I recall a trip I shall never forget.   This was while on the Boone examination.   I hired a horse in Elizabethton, Tennessee, had him shod with ice-chalks.   I rode first to Hot Springs.  N. C.r where a blizzard housed me in for three days.   It was in mid-winter.   I finally made my way to Linville   A snow storm held me there for a day.   I had Blowing Rock in mind as my next stop.   The Yonahlassee Road along the crest of the Blue Ridge was deep in snow when I set out the following day. The wind was cold.  The snow was wet enough to ball under my horse’s feet.   Time after time I had to dismount and cut the snow away so that he could travel.   I tried walking and leading.   The snow balled on my   boots   and   I   made   no progress.    I   mounted again.   The   weather seemed to grow colder as the hours passed.   The snow   froze and no longer stuck, and that was a relief.   Although I was dressed in winter apparel I found myself shaking in the saddle.    I put a saddle slicker on.   This   helped to break the sharpness of the high wind that blew across the ridge but did not greatly increase a feeling of warmth.    I rode into Blowing Rock in the late evening after ten hours in the saddle. The fire and food and bed in the old Coffey Hotel never were more welcome to a weary horseman.

   Subsequently I rode on to Bakersville, N. C. Snow was no longer an impediment to travel but the temperature continued low.  After spending the night in Bakersville I set out for the top of Roan Mountain the next morning, which was on a Sunday. I wanted the view from the summit and I also wished to sketch in the forested lands visible from that peak. The sun was bright enough but the cold still persisted. I thought I could ride to the top without much difficulty I came upon a group of people on their way to church : I asked one of the men to give me direction about the best way up the mountain. He gave me the information I desired and then stepped aside while the others went on. He asked in some surprise: "Are you going to ride to the Roan today?" 1 said, "Yes." ”Why, young man, you can't make it to the Roan in this bitter weather. You will freeze." I thought to myself he could be right. I replied, however, "I am already several days behind my schedule. I think I will push on." "Well," he said, "I don't think you can do it. I have lived here all my life and this is one of the coldest days of the winter. I say you are likely to freeze. But if you have to keep on just remember I have warned you. If you run into trouble come back and stay with me. My name is Buchanan. 'Rattler' Buchanan they call me. Everybody knows where I live." I thanked him and went on. In an hour or so I came to a mountain stream which had to be forded. It was partly frozen over. My horse in spite of repeated efforts on my part to make him cross would not put his foot on the ice. I finally gave up and turned back to "Rattler" Buchanan's farmhouse grateful in some measure that both "Rattler" and the horse were wiser than I. The weather grew warmer next day and I made it to the top without trouble. It was so bitterly cold at that elevation, though, that I had to tie my horse in a spruce thicket and blanket him with my slicker. I managed to stretch out behind a large boulder long enough to accomplish my errand and then wondered about the condition of the road down the mountain on the Tennessee side. I found it impassable because of heavy ice. I dismounted and lead the horse through the forest until we were low .enough to find the road free of ice. In a few hours I rode into Roan Mountain, Tenn., which was not far from Elizabethton, the point I had started from three weeks before. It had not been a vacation for me or for the horse. 

   Afterward on an inspection trip into the Cherokee Purchase Area in Tennessee I had run across an old friend, R. C. Hall, who was like­wise engaged in acquisition activities for the Forest Service. We had exchanged a lot of talk when he inquired if I had any idea of applying for the supervisorship of the Pisgah. I answered in the negative. I remarked further that I imagined if the Washington chiefs wanted me to have that position they would tell me. R. C. said: "No. You are wrong there. So many applications are pouring in that you should certainly make it known that you are interested. Better think it over." I did think it over, I wrote a letter to my Chief of the Branch of Acquisition, William L. Hall, outlining very briefly that I was quite familiar with the forest, that I had my training there and that I already knew many of the people, and that I would be pleased to have him con­sider my  qualifications for the job. Busy throughout the following weeks with my work in the field I gave the matter little thought.   One day I checked into a hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn. for the night. The next morning a telegram informed me that I had been selected to lead the Pisgah. I was completely bowled over by the news, welcome though it was. R. C. Hall had informed me that he had understood some 1500 applications had been received for this position. This startled me and always sounded incredible, but t never attempted to check the accuracy of the assertion. I did think that I had little chance to be chosen with so many names up for consideration.

   Shortly  thereafter   I  was   sent  to  Asheville  to  open headquarters. Naturally  I was  elated to be assigned to the  forest I had first known as a student.   To succeed a man with the ability and attainments such as Dr. Schenck had been at once a challenge and a sobering influence. It kept me trying to do my best and I was often comforted, when  I made  a mistake,  to   recall how he, himself, had  made  many and  had never tried to hide them. The supervisorship of Pisgah National Forest was one of the most interesting and productive of my career in forestry. The Carr Lumber Company, previous to my arrival, had executed a timber cutting contract with Mr. Vanderbilt who had acted upon the recommendations   of   Mr.   Overton W. Price,   at   one   time   Associate Forester of the United States and nationally known as an eminent forest­er. This contract was to run 20 years—from  1912 to 1932. It was not many years before logging railroads stretched from Pisgah Forest Station up Davidson River to its head, up Lookingglass Creek to the Pink Beds and finally up the main prong of South Mills River and Bradley Creek; up North Mills River to Big Creek and to Wash Creek.

   The company complied with the terms of the contract in a cooperative manner, but we were troubled with numerous fires along; the railroad even with spark arresters in place.   I soon began to burn the right of way where necessary and this helped keep the number of  fires  down. Overhead and ground skidders were used  to bring logs  to the tracks. Horses,  mules and. oxen   were   in   use   also.   The   forest   after   cutting operations looked somewhat forbidding, even desolate, where dense stands were   removed.    But   recovery   was   swift, too.    The   roads   throughout Pisgah  Forest now are lined with beautiful young growth.   The average visitor would not realize that logging railroads had threaded the valleys and coves a quarter of a century ago. The Forest Service has made many timber   sales   within   the   forest   removing   material   left   from   former operations. One scarcely realizes that logging is going on.

The beginning of the game preserve was hectic. The deer had increased in numbers over the years while in Mr. Vanderbilt's owner­ship. When the U. S. consummated the purchase of Pisgah Forest we were at once confronted with the question of wild life management. I felt keenly the desirability of continued protection but it took sometime time for this idea to catch on in the upper echelons of the Forest Service. During the period we had charge of the area prior to the proclamation in 1916, we were compelled to operate under the game laws of the various counties which were partly within the forest. These laws were a hodge-podge in most respects. For two years all of us had a difficult job. We had no police powers, no authority, and to begin with very little public support. I had found my Chief of Acquisition, Wm. L. Hall, receptive to plans for creating the game preserve. He, in turn, per­suaded the Forester and some of the other division heads, that the Forest Service should assume the responsibility of game protection. Such support was bound to obtain results. President Wilson proclaimed the preserve in October 1916.

   Mr. Hall and I drew up a set of regulations to govern fishing. Hunting for the tune being was prohibited because of: the large number of loggers scattered through the woods. We held public hearings on these regulations not only for the purpose of explaining them but also for the purpose of seeking public support. We obtained sympathetic backing and put the regulations into effect. We enlisted the aid of the U. S. Biological Survey in stocking the streams. Thousands of fingerlings of trout were placed in the headwaters at various times. Some benefit was derived but over the long period the results were unsatisfactory. Not enough of them survived. Other methods were found better and larger fish were put into the streams. The regulations proved to be workable and fair.  I believe that in most respects these regulations have not been greatly changed since they were placed in effect, even though, by consent, the management of fish and game has been released by the Forest Service to the State Wild Life Commission of North Carolina.

   Another interesting assignment I had later on was that which had to do with the acquisition of lands within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Legislature of North Carolina had passed an enabling act creating a Park Commission charged with the duty of buying these lands. An appropriation of $2,000.000 was authorized. Similar though not identical legislation had been enacted by Tennessee. Mr. John D- Rockefeller, Jr. was to match the appropriations from the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Fund.

   The first commission was headed by Mark Squires of Lenoir, N. C. Certain information pertaining to ownership, farming operations, lumber­ing and other forest conditions had to be obtained quickly. Mr. Arnold C Shaw, a forester of noteworthy talents, was employed by Mr. Squires to do this. The information gathered was of immense assistance. Mr. Shaw resigned to re-enter the Forest Service shortly thereafter, Mr. Squires asked me to become the executive secretary of the Park Com­mission and I agreed. I began to assemble a staff at once. We needed crews to make accurate boundary surveys of each tract; we needed competent timber estimators to determine the quantity and quality of the timer; we required lumbermen of experience to assist in placing fair values on the timber and we had to employ attorney’s to search the titles back to original grants.

   The Park Commission instructed us to be fair to the owner in making valuations. With most of the owners, large and small, we had little difficulty in reaching an agreement.  In some instances we were compelled to resort to condemnation sits in order to quiet title or else to have the values assed by court action.  After five years of continuous and persistent effort fully 95% of the required acreage had been bought.  I then resigned my position to take up other work.  The establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has proved to be widely popular. Millions of motorists and hikers and campers have visited it since then.  It has not begun to reach the peak of its usefulness as one of the greatest attractions in our Southern Appalachian scenic wonderland.  When the road system is completed still greater numbers of visitors will flow through its borders to view the hardwoods in infinite variety, to see the finest stand of virgin red spruce to found in the East, and to acclaim the majesty of the panoramas unfolding before their eyes. For the past several years the American Forests Magazine has endeavored to gather exact information about the largest trees of every species now living in the United States. I believe that this park holds more different species of trees of largest dimensions than any other area of similar extent.

   In March 1926 I married Dorthea Johnston Weaver, a native of Asheville and a descendant of Western North Carolina pioneer families.  Her father, Captain William T. Weaver, developed the first hydro-electric power plants on the French Broad River. Her grandfather, William Johnston, an immigrant from Scotland and Ireland, was a successful financier and investor in Buncombe and adjoining counties.  Three children were the issue our marriage.  The oldest is Verne, Jr., a nuclear physicist employed currently at the AEC Laboratory in Lost Alamos, New Mexico, and also studying for his doctor’s degree in the University of California. The second is William Weaver, at present residing in Formosa as an employee of the U.S. State Department in Taichung. The third is Anne Johnston who is now studying for her master’s degree in the University of California. Both sons have done their stint in the armed forces.  Verne in the Air Force and Bill with OCS at Fort Benning and subsequently in the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg.  Both volunteered as privates and both were discharged as first lieutenants.

   I have retired from several business connections in recent years due to a coronary thrombosis in 1947.  I still have plenty of work to keep me as active as I care to be.  For my wire and my children, for my home and my love of the forests I am grateful beyond measure. 

During my life in Asheville, I have connected with the following:

Member of the Board of Managers, Asheville Branch Wachovia Bank & Trust ; Director or the Asheville Federal Savings and Loan Association ; Director of the Carolina Power and Light Company, Raleigh, N.C. ; Co-trustee with the Wachovia Bank  Trust Company managing downtown business properties.  We erected a modern store building in 1957 for J.C. Penney Company ; Supervisor, Pisgah National Forest & Game Preserve, Executive Secretary , North Carolina Park Commission ; Engineer-Examiner PWA ; Member Regional Research Advisory Committee ; Member State Classification Commission appointed by Governor Hoey; Member Veterans Committee appointed by Governor Cherry ; Chairman, Asheville Housing Authority ; Chairman, Selective Service Board for Buncombe County – 1942-47 ; Member Board of Financial Control for Buncombe County ; member Daniel Boon Council, Boy Scouts of America, Silver Beaver Award ; Treasurer, Board of Trustees, Boy Scouts of America ; Member Society of American Foresters since 1915 ; Chairman 2 terms Southern Appalachian Section of SAF ; member Biltmore Forest Country Club, Mountain City Club, Down Town Club.


Note: During the 1907 depression Verne and his Biltmore classmate Howard Ernest Waterbury made eating money by working for the Tongue Point Lumber Company, Astoria, Oregon.  Verne loaded timber on scow, whenever work was available, and Howard worked 13 hours on the night shift marking lumber on the green chain. Howard tells us on page 118 of Volume 1. that Verne decided that the climate of North Carolina was more salubrious and that no one has since been able to entice him West of the Mississippi River.

  Actually, Verne crossed the Mississippi in 1952 on a vacation trip and visited his brothers in Missouri.  His decision in 1907 to dig the Douglas Fir sawdust out of his ears and nostrils and knock the Oregon soil from his hobnail boots was most important.

For half a century, Verne has been identified with Asheville and Western North Carolina association and has become famous as first Supervisor Pisgah National Forest (11 years) ; Executive Secretary, North Carolina Park Association ; Forest Engineer for P.W. A. and T.V.A.  ; bank and public utility director.  His extraordinary career in and out of forestry merits an honorary degree such as Forester Extraordinary.

   {Oh yes – Howard Ernest Waterbury remained in Oregon and survived and thrived after those 13 hour night shifts in 1907 when he worked for eating money. This all goes to show you that  Biltmore may succeed in any son and that all that  America needs is not a good 5 cent cigar but more good foresters of the type of B.F.S. 1899-1913.(Krinbill, 1909)

Note – It has taken about two years effort between the Rhoades’ family and myself to get Verne to write the above.  We held up the printing of this book until Verne finally came through, and it is worth waiting for.  A chap who was selected to e U.S. Forest Supervisor of Pisgah National Forest, out of 1,5000 application is a MAN – and so Verne Rhoades proved to be.

Our Companies probably cut more chestnut pole than any concern operating in the National Forests, and I met many fine forester, But when I met and did business with Supervisor Rhoades, I encountered a gentleman of wisdom, intelligence and fairness ; one of God’s noblemen. For4etry happenings of importance taking place in North Carolina have usually shown that Verne Rhoades has been consulted. (Conger 1910) Edwin Conger, Class of 1917