The Silas Mason Legacy

Silas Mason

Thought of by some as one of the fathers of forestry, Silas Mason was a professor of Horticulture and Forestry at Berea College from 1897 until 1907. In 1897, Mason began Berea College's first forestry effort. He rode across miles of land on horseback, acquiring tracts that would be useful to the College for its water. Mason used his own money to acquire these tracts of land until 1899 when a benefactor, Sarah Fay from Boston, stepped in to help him fund the land for Berea College. Through Fays' endowment and Mason's work, the College had gathered nearly 5,400 acres of land by 1918.

Mason and Forestry

Mason studied forestry in Europe before returning to America. After this, he concluded that the United States had different needs from the forestry needs and practices of other countries, saying,

"How different American forest problems are from those of the Old World, and how great is our need of the study of the different tree species under conditions most likely to be those of the future."

Mason's forestry practices are today called mixed-age harvesting. As the name suggests, this style of forest harvesting calls for trees to be harvested at differing stages of development and growth. Mason's practices also relied on the principle of worst-first harvesting, wherein damaged or diseased trees are removed from healthy crops of trees.

"A damaged tree... should not be allowed to grow where the conditions are such that a young tree of good character might take its place... The nearer we can come to having the entire growing stock composed of valuable species and perfect the higher will be the return from the land when harvest time comes..." - The College Forest Preserve, by Silas Mason

The Forest Today

Through Mason's style of forest management, he managed to renew much of the land that he and Fay acquired. Through Mason's work, the land shifted from abuse to growth, and Mason crafted a forestry management plan that had some specific goals, such as having and maintaining recreational areas, water system management, and timber production.

Now, over 100 years later, the Forestry Department at Berea College manages over 9,000 acres of healthy land. Students, staff, and community members can enjoy the many hiking trails that the Forest has to offer. The water system still feeds Berea College and the city, and has grown to include more reservoirs. Now, the College is beginning to learn the benefits of and implement a plan for a more sustainable version of logging that utilizes horses. Each of these goals that Mason included in his Forestry Management Plan is being met in some way today by the current foresters--a hearty legacy that Mason left behind.

Another interesting result of the work that Mason started is Berea's role in the Mayflower II. Click here to read more!

To learn more about the Berea College Forest's past, present, and future, read A Century of Forestry by Clint Patterson, Head Forester at Berea College.