2. Before 1895: Discovering Nature
As the nineteenth century ended, most New Yorkers still saw nature as raw material from which money could be made. The connection between sanitation and public health was a relatively new idea: it would be more than 30 years before New York City built its first sewage treatment plant. Yet two influential schools of thought were moving toward an ethic of land protection. The first was a philosophy that described nature in therapeutic or moral terms. In the Adirondacks, the Vanderbilts and Whitneys escaped the stress and grime of cities in their great camps. They were joined by naturalists like John Burroughs and doctors like Edward Livingston Trudeau, who often assisted the wealthy in their efforts to protect wild land by fencing it off.
Other elite hideaways linked nature-worship with other progressive ideas like feminism, natural health, and free thinking. At Putnam Camp in Keene Valley, founded by the philosopher William James, eminent guests like Sigmund Freud were required to chop wood or carry water as well as participate in salon discussions. On the shores of Seneca Lake in Central New York, seven prominent women from Geneva and Seneca Falls established a camp called Fossenvue in 1875 and maintained it until 1901. Women came to Fossenvue to celebrate nature, but also to wear loose-fitting clothes, swim, play tennis, and discuss philosophy, all in the company of men. These were radical notions.
The second view of nature was rooted in the scientific method. Medical researchers recognized that pure air and water could slow or halt the spread of infectious diseases, and their successes began the urban sanitation movement. Scientific foresters did not object to the extraction of resources from land, but sought to develop methods that would allow logging, mining, and hunting to continue at sustained levels indefinitely. Within the scientific umbrella was the emerging field of ecology, which attempted to understand nature as a system and sought ways to keep the system healthy.
For most of the Twentieth Century, the moral and ecological views of nature would be overshadowed by the sanitation movement and the sustained yield philosophy of "conservation." And for the next several decades, the conservation view would be strongly identified with one man: Gifford Pinchot, another wealthy person with New York connections, who liked to describe forests as "factories of wood."