J. Horace McFarland
Cornelius Amory Pugsley Gold Medal Award, 1937
J. Horace McFarland (1859-1948) received the Pugsley Gold Medal in 1937. He was one of the first Americans to sound the call for environmental and scenic protection. He served as a vigorous leader in formulating and disseminating the ideal of preserving -- not merely conserving -- natural resources. With John Muir and a few others he stood almost alone in stressing how "fair use" conservation strategies would not be enough to keep America unspoiled for future generations. He was a Harrisburg business and civic leader, who rose to prominence as one of America's leading proponents of urban beautification and scenic preservation.
He was born in McAlisterville, Pennsylvania. In 1865 his father, a returning Civil War hero, moved the family to Harrisburg and started a printing company and a nursery. At the age of twelve and with only four years of formal education, McFarland went to work in his father's printing shop. In 1878, at age nineteen, McFarland opened his own printing business Mount Pleasant Press and began to publish gardening and seed catalogs. The press was devoted primarily to horticultural printing. Realizing that woodcuts did not adequately represent the plants, he started to explore the use of photography. By 1894, he was experimenting with color photography and his company had become America's premier publisher of gardening catalogs, with what may have been the first color photographs produced in the US. The success of his publishing business provided McFarland with wealth and security, and freed him to engage extensively in the philanthropy and civic activism he loved.
McFarland was recognized as a master gardener whose books and photographs on roses, trees and other subjects were famous across the United States. He wrote more than a dozen books on roses and made the American Rose Society a world-renowned institution. As president, he established a method of rose identification and registration that is still in use today. He was widely known as "Mr. Rose" and was a founder and president of the American Rose Society, which had an international impact on the propagation of roses. His home and garden in the Bellevue Park section of Harrisburg was an internationally famous testing ground for hundreds of new plant species. It contained 5,000 plants including varieties of roses. Three roses were named in his honor: Editor McFarland, the Doctor, and J. Horace McFarland.
His civic involvement began in 1891 when he joined with others in promoting the erection of a viaduct to join two sections of the city of Harrisburg. McFarland then became the driving force behind bringing modern improvements to Harrisburg in the early 1900s under the auspices of the "Harrisburg Plan" which included the city's water filtration plant, Riverfront Park, Wildwood Lake city's and associated flood control projects and paved streets. This was at a time when city residents routinely dumped garbage and ashes into the Susquehanna River and died of typhoid fever; and when city residents were deprived of green fields and parks by urban expansion. McFarland campaigned successfully to confront Harrisburg's citizens with the issues and carve out a public policy they would be willing to support.
Parks were his particular interest so McFarland called in Warren Manning, a Boston landscape architect, to assess Harrisburg's environs and develop a plan. Inspired by what he found, Manning's plan was bold and attractive. McFarland diligently educated the citizenry on the merits of the park system. They became so enthused about their future parks that they voted overwhelming support for the entire reform package, which also included filtered water and new sewage systems.
The campaign in Harrisburg took place in 1902 and was covered closely by newspapers throughout America, propelling McFarland into national prominence. In 1904, he became the first president of the American Civic Association, an influential national group that became instrumental in promoting the improvement of cities and preserving America's natural beauty. He served as president from 1904 to 1924. Most cities were dirty, disfigured by telephone wires, smoke-infested, and lacking decent water and sewage systems. The aim of civic improvement was to turn the tide away from this blight and the rapid despoiling of natural areas. For twenty years McFarland led the "crusade for civic improvement," sometimes called the "crusade against ugliness." He personally visited more than 500 towns and cities to stimulate and guide local action for improvement. He delivered lantern slide shows and lectures on the advantages of shade trees, parks, handsome buildings and town planning; he wrote, printed, and circulated pamphlets on cleaning up the blight he saw everywhere. McFarland didn't believe in passing laws that made people change things, but rather in persuading them through education that they wanted the changes. He encouraged citizens to write letters to their congressmen about environmental issues. The letters were not the mass-produced, preconceived letters that are sent today, but individually composed, heartfelt messages that convinced many legislators of the public's profound concern with numerous environmental and beautification issues.
As a specialist on horticulture and the propagation of roses, McFarland became editor of the "Beautiful America" column in the Ladies' Home Journal in 1904. He used this post, and his position as president of the American Civic Association to aggressively seek support from the Roosevelt administration to ensure protection for Niagara Falls, which was threatened by construction of hydroelectric plants that would divert water from above the Horseshoe Falls around the cataract to turbines set downstream in the Niagara Gorge. If approved, McFarland bitterly concluded, the project would stand as "The Monument of America's shame and greed." His successful campaign culminated in the signing of a treaty with Great Britain in 1909 safeguarding the falls, whereby the control of Niagara Falls was taken away from the state of New York and the Province of Ontario and placed under the joint authority of the International Niagara Falls Control Board.
From his position as president of the American Civic Association, he became a central figure in the fight led by John Muir and the Sierra Club to prevent San Francisco from damming the water at Hetch Hetchy Valley in the Yosemite National Park for the city's use. But in December of 1913, after five years of hearings and debates, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill giving San Francisco access to the Hetch Hetchy Valley.
In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt convened his historic Conservation Conference of Governors in Washington D.C. Most delegates were concerned with lands, waters and minerals, and out of the 200,000 words in the conference proceedings only 2,000 were devoted to conservation of natural scenery, and most of those belonged to McFarland. He observed, "The scenic value of all the national domain yet remaining should be jealously guarded as a distinctly important national resource." From this conference onwards, McFarland put the force of his dynamic personality behind the movement to secure a single agency in the U.S. government, which would be responsible for protecting and administering the national parks.
John Muir was deeply disenchanted by the Hetch Hetchy defeat, and withdrew from further public campaigns. However, McFarland, though exhausted by the failed campaign, rallied quickly and with typical tenacity worked to turn defeat into a new opportunity. Within a few days, he wrote a personal letter to President Wilson in which he paved the way for getting the president's support for the development of a national parks system. He knew that yesterday's opponent could be tomorrow's ally. Experience bore him out: Congressman John Raker of California, who championed the Hetch Hetchy bill, became a sponsor of the bill proposing the creation of the National Park Service; and Franklin K. Lane, who was city attorney for San Francisco during the Hetch Hetchy conflict, was by 1913 secretary of the interior and became McFarland's ally when the National Park Service was first proposed. America's 41 national parks and monuments were managed by various authorities -- including the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Army. During his stays in Washington on behalf of the American Civic Association, McFarland discovered, "Nowhere in official Washington can an inquirer find an office of the National Parks, or a desk devoted solely to their management" which was the responsibility of "clerks in three departments who have taken on the extra work of doing what they can for the Nation's playgrounds."
He first got a bill to accomplish this introduced in the Congress in 1911. After five more years of intensive effort working with three secretaries of the interior, the National Park Service was established under the 1916 Act. McFarland's dedication to the service never waned. After the successful establishment of the National Park Service, McFarland turned his efforts to the protection of the parks. In his role as president of the American Civic Association, he was one of the most stalwart spokesmen opposing the first major threat to the new national parks -- the proposed Fall River-Bechler water project in Yellowstone National Park. He served on the Department of the Interior's Educational Advisory Board for the parks and also as a member of the National Park Trust Fund until his death in 1948.
Simultaneously with his campaign to establish and protect the National Park Service, McFarland involved himself in a host of additional campaigns on behalf of scenic preservation, including calls for the creation of Shenandoah, Everglades, and Grand Teton national parks.
A Progressive in the classic sense of the term, McFarland firmly believed that city, state, and national parks were the foundation for human health, patriotism, and worker productivity. "The park," he once observed, "is the closest competitor, in the United States, of the courts, of the jail, of the cemetery, and a very efficient competitor with all of them." Calm and dignified in appearance, he nonetheless became impassioned and aroused whenever he faced ugliness in the human environment. As a result, he was still of the opinion that his battle for beauty had only just begun when he died in October 1948.
McFarland gave most of his life to educating the public and gathering support for programs of civic improvement and to ensure the preservation of America' natural beauty. McFarland's vision was grounded in his prophetic understanding that the planet and its people represent one single system. Long before the word "ecosystem" or the phrase "whole earth" became part of our everyday vocabulary, he understood our world to be part of an integrated system in which all forms of life are interdependent, and in which the destruction of one part threatens the survival of the others. The earth, he believed, belongs to each of us, and we, in turn, are forever responsible for its well-being. This is the legacy of this extraordinary man.
Bruce Babbitt (1995) in his forward to Ernest Morrison (1995). J. Horace McFarland -- A Thorn for Beauty. Harrisburg, PN: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Alfred Runte (1979). National Parks: The American Experience. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Harlean James (1939). Romance of the national parks. New York: Macmillam.
E. Lynn Miller (2000). McFarland, J. Horace. In Charles A. Birnbuam and Robin Karson (eds). Pioneers of American landscape design. New York: McGraw Hill