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Managing the Mountains

Managing the Mountains: Land Use Planning, the New Deal, and the Creation of a Federal Landscape in Appalachia

Sara M. Gregg
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Managing the Mountains
    Book Description:

    Historians have long viewed the massive reshaping of the American landscape during the New Deal era as unprecedented. This book uncovers the early twentieth-century history rich with precedents for the New Deal in forest, park, and agricultural policy. Sara M. Gregg explores the redevelopment of the Appalachian Mountains from the 1910s through the 1930s, finding in this region a changing paradigm of land use planning that laid the groundwork for the national New Deal. Through an intensive analysis of federal planning in Virginia and Vermont, Gregg contextualizes the expansion of the federal government through land use planning and highlights the deep intellectual roots of federal conservation policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14220-4
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
  3. [Illustrations]
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiii)
    (pp. xiv-xviii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    THE APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS STRETCH from northern Alabama to Quebec, moving from the Deep South through New England and encompassing a diversity of cultural and political landscapes. In spite of the range’s geological and topographical continuity, the Northern and Southern Appalachians have rarely been studied together. Yet it is worth reconsidering Appalachia as a whole because the northern and southern mountains share a number of important characteristics. They boast a moderately rugged terrain; have historically been covered in forest and are ideally suited to growing trees; proved viable for small-scale farming and husbandry; and are proximate to important agricultural areas. Most...


      (pp. 11-39)

      IN THE SUMMER OF 1929, a group on horseback rode into a small community in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern Virginia carrying their notebooks, a stash of pennies and chewing gum, and a number of hypotheses about the families living in the mountain hollow. The party included psychologist Mandel Sherman, journalist Thomas R. Henry, and a local teacher, Miriam Sizer, the primary field worker for the research project that had inspired this journey. The researchers encountered a setting that confirmed their greatest hopes for the project. The shady mountain hollows were cool and quiet, “realms of enchantment” in which...

      (pp. 40-75)

      IN 1928 , several hundred concerned citizens met in a large auditorium in Burlington, Vermont, to convene an investigation of conditions within rural communities. This group, the Vermont Commission on Country Life (VCCL), shared a sense of urgency about future prospects for the development of Vermont, uniting in an attempt to improve the state’s economy and communities that was prompted by the spectre of rural decline. The commission’s research covered a larger cross-section of the state than Sherman and Henry’s team in the Blue Ridge, and its vision for the future was both more optimistic and more open-ended than its...

    • CHAPTER THREE Academics and Partisans: FEDERAL LAND USE PLANNING, 1900–1933
      (pp. 76-102)

      BEGINNING AROUND THE TURN of the twentieth century, as rural communities increasingly struggled to discern their economic future, federal intervention in the management of parks, forests, and agriculture expanded, signaling a new phase in the evolution of the nation-state. This was famously the age of reclamation in the arid West, of experiments in dryland farming, and of the quest to rationalize agricultural production. Yet alongside federal efforts in the West to turn “wastelands” to productive purposes emerged a parallel turn toward improving land utilization in the East—one that entailed removing uneconomic farms and forests from production and returning them...


    • CHAPTER FOUR Designing the Shenandoah National Park
      (pp. 105-139)

      THE 1920S AND 1930S were a period of government expansion that brought the state and federal governments into realms of unprecedented influence. Many of the land use planners’ ideas about conserving the nation’s natural resources were implemented in Appalachia as the federal government consolidated vast new acreages of parks and forests. In large part, the surge of interest in new national parks during the early 1920s revealed the changing priorities of government and society as they related to nature and private property during the early twentieth century.

      This era in the evolution of the federal government provided an unprecedented opportunity...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Cultivating the Vermont Forest
      (pp. 140-174)

      IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY, the state of Vermont drew on local traditions of stewardship and a history of land management as it experimented with different means of protecting mountain farms and forests. In particular, during the 1910s and 1920s it benefited from partnerships with towns and the federal government. During these decades Vermonters developed a proactive approach to managing the upcountry forest, approaching land management as part of the state’s intensive evaluation of its cultural and economic resources. Due to the starkly evident consequences of land abandonment, and later the work of the Vermont Commission on Country Life and...

    • CHAPTER SIX Reforming Submarginal Lands, 1933–1938
      (pp. 175-212)

      DURING THE 1930s, as the creation of new eastern national parks and forests transformed the Appalachian landscape, the action agencies of the New Deal proposed other, even more ambitious plans for reforming land use in the mountains. These federal initiatives moved beyond conservation, aspiring instead to implement the full range of social and economic reforms that land use planners had proposed during the 1910s and 1920s. Ultimately, this vision found its fullest expression in the programs of the Resettlement Administration (RA), which briefly embodied the greatest hopes for improved land utilization that had evolved during the previous decades.

      The New...

    (pp. 213-220)

    THE LEGACY OF EARLY TWENTIETH-CENTURY land use planning left a prominent mark on the Appalachian Mountain landscape—creating vast swaths of public lands “in the very heart of civilized America,” as Hubert Work once observed. This prioritization of adjusted land use spurred significant economic and cultural changes, turning a landscape of small subsistence farms and forests into a managed federal landscape. Today, the Appalachian forests are as fully integrated into modern life as the cities a few short hours away—Skyline Drive pulloffs are frequented by both hikers and automobilists checking email, while Vermont’s ski areas employ the most cutting-edge...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 221-277)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 278-286)