Wednesday Jul 29, 2020

Steve Anderson

President and CEO Forest History Society

Steve Anderson, Forest History Society – *VIRTUAL* Regular Club Meeting Online

Tom introduced our speaker, Steven Anderson, President and CEO of the Forest History Society.

He worked at Oklahoma State University where he led the forestry program. His resume includes North Carolina State and the University of Washington.

Steven said he raised money to build the society’s current home, 2925 Academy Road (NC 751), in Durham, which it has inhabited since January 2019.

The society is a 501(c)3 organization focused on “documenting family and forest history.” It is a library and archive of forest history, the largest one. He gets calls and visits from researchers around the world for information on forests and conservation because it is an international organization. For instance, one collection from a historian at Duke looks at land use changes in Southeast Asia. The materials “cover relationship of people and trees through time.”

Steven’s visual presentation covered the society’s collections, publications, research, databases, and exhibits, and finally, the history of the society itself.

Its library and archives include novels and more than 2,500 photographs that are being digitized. Some are already online. US Forest Service has also given the society 13,000 more images to digitize. These include lantern slides and moving pictures. The footage has been used by The History Channel and by Ken Burns for his documentary of the National Parks. It is home to the Society of American Foresters records.

Its publications include the periodicals Environmental History and Forestry Today, and books.

As a result of its research, the society has produced oral histories, a middle school curriculum—one of the first to bring environmental history into social studies—free online, and has produced a film—“America’s First Forest: Carl Schenck and the Ashville Experiment” about the Biltmore Forest School, the first such school in the United States to train foresters. (This film has aired on public television, including UNC-TV.)

The building includes a gallery for exhibits while its website hosts digital exhibits, including about the Canton Paper Mill in western North Carolina and about the Pioneer Trail Riders in 1933.

The society started in 1946 with a grant from Weyerhauser family. It moved to Durham in mid-1980s to associate with Duke University. In 1985, it bought its first building, which was on Jackson St. in Durham. The new building is more than 16,000 square feet, big enough to accommodate the Weyerhauser archives and more.

Steve gave us a virtual tour of the society’s building. Its conference room has meeting space for up to 110 people in a conference room that is equipped to live stream programs. The beams in the library and the flooring are all made of donated wood. Its archives have 1.5 miles of shelf space, and it is not full yet, aided by space-saving shelving.

Its website is and its blog is

During the question and answer period, we learned a bit more about the society:

It is affiliated with Duke University, but it is an independent nonprofit organization. It did come to Durham because of Duke.

The distinctive-looking exterior is made of Stonewood, a fiber resin mix of pressed wood with some recycled content. It protects from rain. And part of the outside is wood sheathing.

When asked about media inquiries, Steven replied, users of the library and archives include all kinds of audiences, including journalists. Its core mission is to preserve material, make it accessible, educate and do outreach. The board is discussing how far to go in education and outreach without becoming an advocacy organization.

When asked how the society is being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Steven replied that the building was closed for three months before opening up for staff. Fortunately, the building was built with individual offices with individual HVAC systems, which is good for ventilation and social distancing. This week, the society invited a researcher to visit—the first since the pandemic. The librarian recently started a webpage on how the pandemic is affecting industry.

[Notes by Rachel Hardy]

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