One of the highlights of my recent trip to the Adirondacks was a morning spent at Blue Mountain Lake, at the Adirondack Museum, looking through a folder of papers that had been donated to the collections there more than fifty years ago. They belonged to Warwick S. Carpenter, who had served as a young Secretary of the New York Conservation Commission from 1918 to 1921.
Warwick Carpenter’s name was familiar to me thanks to my research on John Apperson, who in 1920 had already earned a reputation as a leader in the Adirondack preservationist movement by helping to win several legislative battles defending the New York State Constitution’s “Forever Wild” clause. Apperson visited the far reaches of the Forest Preserve, and documented with photos the damage he argued was caused by collusion between the forestry interests and the State Conservation Commission. He shared his work with Warwick Carpenter, and the two collaborated on several publications, including early editions of Conservationist magazine which featured Apperson’s photos. Their work stirred a hornet’s nest of angry denials in Albany and New York City, and among the top officers of elite clubs and organizations.
Apperson believed that state officials, at the behest of logging and lumbering companies, were avoiding the purchase of the most endangered lands, including steep slopes and old growth forests. Holding Superintendent of Forests Clifford R. Pettis largely to blame, Warwick Carpenter prepared a 28-page letter alleging mismanagement in the Conservation Commission and submitted it to his and Pettis’s boss, Conservation Commissioner George D. Pratt. Carpenter’s letter no longer exists, but it angered Commissioner Pratt (whose reputation as a defender of the Forest Preserve was at stake) and in April, 1921 Carpenter was fired from his job. Unable to find suitable employment in New York, Carpenter moved to California in 1922.
John Apperson stayed on and kept writing letters, taking pictures, and speaking out for the Forest Preserve, but he had to carry on the fight without his talented friend. Forty years later, in a letter to Apperson, Carpenter recalled his battle with Pettis and Pratt: “How anyone worth so many millions of dollars as Commissioner Pratt was, and totally uncommitted to any lumber or any other interests, could be used in this manner is difficult to explain. But that’s the way it was.”
In the same letter Carpenter asks Apperson: “I think it is proper to have this record where it can be used if necessary… What sort of an idea might it be for you to put together a select group of thoroughly trustworthy persons who would know what is in this material, and where it is kept, and who could make appropriate plans for using it when the time arrives?”
Apperson’s answer was not recorded, but Carpenter sent his papers to the Adirondack Museum. He did so not just in hopes that someone, someday, would appreciate his own role in this struggle between a young idealistic state employee and his bosses, but also so that work of his old friend and ally John Apperson would be remembered.
In his cover letter to the Adirondack Museum’s Warder Cadbury, Carpenter wrote: “I am sure that the part played by John Apperson in finally bringing about protection of some of the highest and most critical mountain slopes, and in saving them for public use in a condition as nearly as possible like their primitive state, is not generally known. In these letters and in some of the following exhibits his hand is clearly seen, and where it is not visible it is nevertheless behind the scenes, without ostentation but with unremitting pressure.”
As a sample of the papers Carpenter sent the Adirondack Museum, here are excerpts from a speech Apperson gave, as a minority report to the Conservation Committee of the Adirondack Mountain Club, in 1922:
“The minority member of your committee has made a long and detailed examination of the territory covered by the motion and, also, of forest lands in other parts of the Adirondacks. In the high, mountain region, vital areas are still unprotected while in that same region and other parts of the mountains, large areas of timber burned and utter despoiled land have been acquired at State expense. The very track which was photographed and used in the campaign to secure the bond, as an example of the devastation which was to be stopped in those mountains, has been purchased at a cost of half a million dollars and, at the same time, lumbering has been extended to other areas since the bond issue was obtained and it will be further extended, unless State acquisition of those tracts is immediately completed.
“…The second main reason advanced by the majority of the Committee against Mr. Carpenter’s motion is that the state authorities should be given an entirely free hand in their conduct of land acquisition. The majority report says “the men best qualified to judge regarding these matters are the experts on the ground, the Conservation Commissioner, the Land Board, the Superintendent of State Forests, all of whom pass on each project. These men are familiar with the problem of the whole Forest Preserve and have before them the facts regarding all the tracts that may and should be acquired. It is believed that they should continue to have the broadest authority in the exercise of their judgment in selecting land for purchase.
“The minority of your Committee is unable to accept this view. We are not living in an age when it is believed that the King can do no wrong. Our entire system of government is founded upon the theory that the citizens of the State shall inform themselves accurately regarding the conduct of public affairs and if they do not approve of them, will take proper action to change their course. We are living not in an era of the divine right of kings but rather in one of referendum and recall.”
Photos: Above, Warwick Carpenter (left) and a Mr. Houghton sitting on the edge of a lean-to talking with an unidentified man standing outside. The location is unrecorded, but may be Grampus Lake near Long Lake, in Hamilton County (from the NYS Archives); below, a photo by John Apperson captioned “At the top of the Boreas Range: Type of forest destruction on steep slopes which may be seen and photographed from McComb to Seward.”