By James Wilson, Parks Recreation Specialist, Northampton County Division of Parks and Recreation
Now deceased 121 years, James Henry (1809-1895) is one of Pennsylvania’s unsung pioneer conservation heroes, and among the very first Pennsylvanians to make original and progressive contributions to the protection and enhancement of the aquatic resources of the state.
In 1883, he drafted a bill-- Senate Bill 71-- titled, “An act to encourage the planting of trees over the springs and water courses of this Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” which passed the Senate, but was defeated in its third consideration in the House.*
Had it passed all three legislative readings in the House, James Henry’s bill, sponsored by State Senators Peter Hay (Philadelphia) and Jeremiah Hess (Northampton), would have become Pennsylvania’s first public law dealing with the protection of stream corridors and water resources across the Commonwealth by establishing a state nursery system for the purposes of reforesting these waterways.
It wasn’t until 1897-- twelve years after Henry’s bill was defeated and two years after his death-- that the Pennsylvania state legislature would authorize a Forestry Commission and Forest Reserve System to rehabilitate the state’s forest and water resources through the creation of a forest nursery system, as was James Henry’s vision.
A narrative of the bill, in its brief entirety, is below.
Brief Life Story
James Henry was born October 13, 1809 in Philadelphia to John Joseph and Mary Rebecca Henry. He was the first born in the fourth generation of the famous Henry family of Pennsylvania Rifle makers.
In 1821, at the age of 12, James and his parents relocated to the Henry Homestead at the family’s Boulton Plantation on Bushkill Creek, in Northampton County. The family homestead was home to James for the remainder of his life.
He was educated at nearby Nazareth Hall, a military school for boys. He entered the Moravian Theological Seminary in Nazareth in 1825.
Upon completion of his seminary courses in 1829, he accepted a post as teacher at Nazareth Hall, serving there until 1831, at which time he joined his father in the family firearms manufactory at Boulton.
In 1833, James Henry married Mary Magdalena Sautter. Seven children were born to them at the Henry Homestead.
In 1857, James served as an alternate delegate to the General Synod of the Moravian Church and accompanied the delegates to Herrnhut, Saxony. He combined this opportunity with an extended tour of Europe, where he studied the forestry principles and practices of France and Germany.
A lifelong scholar, he devoted his leisure time to philosophical studies, the mastery of languages and historical research. He was conversant in five European languages and could read Latin, Greek and Hebrew.
In 1857, James Henry was one of the founders of the Moravian Historical Society, and from that time until his death in 1895, with the exception of two years, he served as president of the society.
Many of his writings, most of them based upon extensive personal research, were published in the Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society. His Sketches of Moravian Life and Character was published as a separate volume by J.B. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia, in 1859.
Under the pen name of “The Modern Telemachus,” he wrote a series of papers on art, music, nature and philosophical topics, which were published in The Literary World, New York, in 1853.
James Henry died peacefully in his sleep, just before midnight, on June 14, 1895, at the age of 85.
James Henry led an effort to try to pass major environmental legislation for the protection, conservation and enhancement of the natural environment of Pennsylvania by literally drafting, revising and finalizing the Commonwealth’s first proposed bill protecting stream corridors and water resources across the state.
He brought national attention to Pennsylvania’s natural resources by personally and successfully petitioning the American Forestry Congress in Boston, and the Forestry Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to recommend support of this bill in the Pennsylvania state legislature.
He personally invested heavily in the long-term education of Pennsylvania’s – and America’s – youth on conservation issues by lobbying these same and other agencies for the establishment of schools of forestry in all the state colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, and across the nation.
Through his creation of proposed legislation preserving stream corridors and watercourses across Pennsylvania by reforesting them, James Henry played a leading and pioneering role in attempting to reclaim and enhance water resources throughout the Commonwealth, at a time when much of the state’s waterways and water quality were in dire straits.
With a mind and a heart toward conservation, James Henry saw the desperate need to reforest the state’s mountainsides and waterways, which had been utterly denuded in the lumbering heyday of the 19th century, resulting in tremendous environmental impacts due to uncontrolled stormwater erosion and stream sedimentation.
He knew the onus for restoring the state’s forests and water quality rested with the Commonwealth itself.
In 1883, James engaged in correspondence with Senator Hess, from Northampton County, regarding the degraded state of forests and water resources throughout much of Pennsylvania.
Senator Hess expressed great interest in preserving and renewing the state’s forests and waterways, and suggested that James, with his grasp of the situation, understanding of ecological principles and formidable writing skills, draft a bill, which the senator would sponsor in Harrisburg, for the establishment of a state nursery for the purposes of affording free distribution of trees among Pennsylvanians for planting along the state’s watercourses and springs.
James Henry immediately went to work on drafting just such a bill, and over the course of a year, wrote several versions before completing a final draft of proposed legislation for Senators Hay and Hess to co-sponsor in the state assembly.
During the second session after its presentation, the bill passed the State Senate with but one dissenting vote. And during the same 1884-’85 session, it received an affirmative vote in the State House of Representatives, and passed the second reading of that body.
Unfortunately, the bill failed to pass its third and final consideration of the state House by a vote of 90 to 58.* Had it passed that reading, James Henry’s bill would have become Pennsylvania’s first public law addressing the protection of waterways by creating a state nursery system for the planting of riparian forest buffers.
Henry’s vision was finally realized twelve years later and two years after his death, when the state legislature did pass a similar bill.
While Senators Hay and Hess together co-sponsored James Henry’s legislation in Harrisburg, James himself vigorously lobbied both the House and Senate for support of the measure.
In a letter urging the State Senate to support the bill, James wrote, “The protection of our streams and springs should be the first avowed object of arboriculture in our State, and the great work naturally falls on the State, it being the proprietor of the waters as it is of the game and the fish.”
And in a letter to the State House of Representatives seeking support of the bill, he stated, “The establishment of nurseries for the cultivation of useful forest trees, and offering these for gratuitous distribution to the landholders of our State, is to bring about the recuperation of our woodlands and water courses.
“Your attention is called to the very important fact, that our streams and living springs are more or less suffering by the denudation that has taken place; and they are destined to suffer much more by the continued destruction of timber, not a vestige of which is left standing for their protection and preservation.”
In addition to personally lobbying the state legislature for support of his bill, James Henry also petitioned the Pennsylvania Forestry Association, the American Forestry Congress in Boston, and the Forestry Division of the US Department of Agriculture to recommend and file support for the bill in Harrisburg.
In a letter to the Pennsylvania Forestry Association seeking support of the measure, James wrote, in avant-garde fashion, “Admitting that humus produced by the fallen leaf is the preservation of our waters, and that the State is the undoubted owner, we must conclude that the guardianship of the woodland territory through which these waters find their way should be assumed by the State.
‘It remains a problem however, not easily solved, how these borders of our streams could now be appropriated by our Commonwealth, as their purchase would be out of the question. Without the timely protection of these bordering lands and securing them for an exclusive arboriculture, our water supply will diminish at a fearful rate, and floods will ravage the districts through which the creeks and rivers flood more and more every year.
“By instituting a system of planting, many of the terrors of drought and flood can be warded off, and in order to carry out any measure having this end in view, the State and citizen must act together.”
And in reply to James Henry from the American Forestry Congress, the secretary of that organization wrote, “Your welcome information with regard to Pennsylvania’s move for the encouragement of forestry along its watercourses has been received and will find its place before the Congress at Boston. In my estimation this is the way to begin, and I sincerely hope you will succeed in passing the bill.”
And in reply to James Henry from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Chief of the Forestry Division stated, “I wish to express my concurrence in your remarks regarding forest preservation as incumbent upon the State of Pennsylvania, where absolutely useful, i.e., along watercourses and on mountainsides.”
At the same time he was lobbying the Pennsylvania Forestry Association, the American Forestry Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for support of the bill he wrote for the Commonwealth, James Henry was also petitioning these same agencies to aggressively promote forestry as part of the academic curriculum in institutions of higher learning in Pennsylvania, and across the nation.
In a letter to the Pennsylvania Forestry Association urging support of his bill, James added, “I am looking forward to the time, when, in Pennsylvania, our Colleges will combine Forestry with other useful practical studies. It belongs to the most captivating of our intellectual pursuits, and I have no doubt our Youth, and especially those who represent our rural interests, would listen to lectures on this subject with intense interest. I hope you will regard with favor what I have thus cursorily written to you. To me the work is a labor of love, and I have been in it since 1875.”
In response, the secretary of the association replied, “Your suggestion, to get Forestry taught in all our State Colleges and Universities, is an excellent one. I think a statement in Forest Lands to that effect, would do some little good, but more direct appeals would do better. We need instruction from persons of your knowledge and experience. Prof. Rothrock’s illness and enforced absence obliges us to fall back upon our friends. Your suggestions will be submitted and acted upon to the best of our ability.”
And in a letter to the American Forestry Congress seeking support of his bill for the protection and preservation of Pennsylvania’s water resources, James wrote “In conjunction with this scheme, however, no suggestion could be more urgent than to appeal to all our Colleges to open schools of Forestry. There will be but lukewarm movements made in our Legislatures, looking to the encouragement of dendrology among our citizens, until our representatives themselves have been educated up to the subject.”
And in reply to the same petition to the Forestry Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the chief of that agency wrote to James, “Although I am not very sanguine to immediate action in this direction, I am glad to see such men as yourself and Mr. Kinney of California, who I believe is really organizing a forestry school, interested in this matter.”
James Henry was an active member of both the Pennsylvania Forestry Association and the American Forestry Congress. He served on the council of both organizations for a number of years, and regularly contributed articles to the Pennsylvania Forestry Association’s periodicals, Forest Leaves and Forest Lands.
Forestry was one of James’ primary interests. Between 1886 and 1889, he wrote the first draft of an unpublished, book-length study of forestry, which includes nine volumes. He also authored scores of articles and other papers on the subject of forestry throughout his life.
Today, all of his literary works, including several drafts of his bill, “An act to encourage the planting of trees over the springs and along the water courses of this Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” are in the possession of the Jacobsburg Historical Society, where they are carefully archived and made available to the public for interpretation and study.
In the late 1950s, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began to purchase portions of the original Henry properties in Bushkill Township, Northampton County, as part of Pennsylvania’s State Park system.
This land acquisition culminated in the early 1970s with the purchase of the last parcels of Henry real estate, which included the Henry Homestead and Henry’s Woods, a 40-acre stand of old growth forest reported to be one of the oldest stands of timber in eastern Pennsylvania.
In his book, Guide to Ancient Forests of Pennsylvania, author Bruce Kershner writes, “This 40-acre site is one of the most significant natural treasures of eastern Pennsylvania. The Henry family preserved Henry’s Woods because they appreciated its special natural beauty and recreational value for their family and the community. Thanks to the foresight and stewardship of the Henrys, the woods are now part of the Bureau of State Park’s 1,168-acre Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center.”
We at Jacobsburg believe James Henry would be proud of his family’s enduring legacy in the upper Bushkill Creek watershed, Northampton County, and is worthy of recognition for his contributions to Pennsylvania’s early conservation history and heritage.
James Henry was a man of his time, and a man ahead of it as well.
Over 130 years after his vision for forested buffers was first proposed, the conservation of streamside forests – our link between land and water – is today a subject of community concern and greenway initiatives throughout the Commonwealth.
And forestry and environmental science curricula are today offered at many state colleges and universities across Pennsylvania and the nation, due in no small part, to the progressive and proactive efforts of early environmentalists, like James Henry.
To be sure, he is one of Pennsylvania’s little known and unsung, pioneer conservation heroes.
Senate Bill 71 (House Bill 519) Text As Considered By The House
(As Printed In The House Legislative Record, June 9, 1885*)
TO ENCOURAGE THE PLANTING OF TREES
OVER THE SPRINGS AND ALONG THE WATER COURSES
OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
Whereas a large portion of the Eastern and South Eastern portions of our State has been exhausted of its timber to such a degree as to produce a visible effect on springs, streams, and
water courses; therefore
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in General Assembly met, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That for the encouragement of the citizens of this State to plant trees around springs and along the streams and water courses of their lands, inducements be held out to all landholders by donations of seedling trees for the purpose named.
To promote this end and for the further protection and propagation of timber in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania the State Board of Agriculture be and is hereby instructed as a tentative experiment to establish one or more nurseries in such location as they may deem most favorable for the purpose in which shall be sown the various kinds of useful trees, such as pine, fir, larch, oak, linden, locust, maple, ash, mulberry, willow and other evergreen and deciduous trees, and the seedlings distributed gratuitously to all bona fida landholders in this Commonwealth.
To fulfill the designs of this enactment it shall be enjoined upon all recipients of seedlings to transplant them on the borders of running waters and around springs. Provided, however, That the owner or owners of land shall not be restricted to the use of the said seedlings for that purpose alone, but may plant in groups and groves throughout their estates.
That for the purpose of carrying this act into effect the sum of two thousand dollars be and the same is hereby appropriated for the year 1886, 1887 and 1888: Provided, That the State Board of Agriculture under oath of their secretary shall annually make to the Auditor General an itemized statement showing how much and for what purpose the money was spent and unless such itemized report is made and approved by the Auditor General. The State Treasurer is hereby directed not to pay any money for said purpose until such report shall have been made and approved.
No seedlings shall be dispensed to any applicant who cannot furnish good and sufficient evidence of his true and honest purpose to plant the same and not use them with a view to gain or traffic.
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