During formative 1930s, Hoosier National Forest identity proved tenacious

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By The Staff

Editor's Note: This article on the history of the Hoosier National Forest is part of an occasional series marking the 75th anniversary of the forest's creation. For more information and to read previous installments, visit www.fs.fed.us/r9/hoosier.

In March of 1935 the Forest Service asked the public to help select a name for the purchase units in Indiana. The agency outlined rules for the naming of the forest. About 25 percent of those who sent in suggestions chose the name Hoosier. So Forest Supervisor Phil Brandner announced April 19, 1935, that Hoosier had been chosen as the official name for the Forest Service purchase units in Indiana.

As the early Hoosier purchase units began to grow, authorities speculated that so much federal land would eventually be acquired in southern Indiana that they would need to eventually be divided between three national forests.

The Benjamin Harrison Memorial Commission, established by Public Law No. 352, was approved Aug. 9, 1939. This commission, composed of five commissioners, was to consider and formulate plans for a permanent memorial for Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president of the United States. The commission decided of all President Harrison's many achievements, the most important was his creation of forest reserves in 1891, which later became the national forest system, and the conservation of the country's natural resources.

Stephen Nolan, editor of the Indianapolis News, headed the commission, which prepared a 344-page report dated Feb. 1, 1941. They asked for funding and the authority to move forward on their plan to purchase and preserve the Harrison home in Indianapolis as a memorial. They suggested the Forest Service purchase units in Indiana be renamed the Benjamin Harrison Memorial Forest. They requested funding be accelerated to acquire a solid Forest Service land base in 10 years rather than over 40 years as earlier planned.

There were several other provisions such as establishing an Institute of Forestry, a scenic highway with educational kiosks, a national arboretum, an educational museum and a library in Harrison's memory.

A national forest seemed a suitable memorial for President Benjamin Harrison since he was credited with establishing the first national forest, the Shoshone National Forest, near Yellowstone. Specifically, the commission proposed establishing a 700,000-acre national forest in Indiana in his honor. According to the Bedford Daily Times of April 11, 1941, "Congressional leaders said today that universal approval was given the proposal as a sound business proposition when it was submitted to the committee."

During April and May of 1941, meetings were held throughout Indiana and state-wide, organizations voted to support the commission's report.

Representative Louis Ludlow introduced House Resolution 4448 April 21, 1941. Sens. Van Nuys and Willis co-sponsored Senate Bill 1374 April 22, 1941 with essentially the same language. Both bills would have authorized the commission to proceed with establishing the Benjamin Harrison Memorial National Forest and Forest Institute in the State of Indiana as a memorial to Benjamin Harrison.

The bills would have also authorized the purchase of the Benjamin Harrison home at 1230 North Delaware Street in Indianapolis and acquire additional lands for the national forest. The commission would dissolve after the memorial work was complete, at which time the administration of the holdings acquired would pass to the U.S. Forest Service. Both bills asked the 77th Congress to authorize expenditures not to exceed $5 million to execute the plans recommended by this commission.

By October, Rudy Grabow, forest supervisor of the Hoosier Purchase Units was reporting that the two bills had been pigeonholed. Further momentum was then lost during the war. No more mention of the bill is made until Rep. Louis Ludlow resubmitted his bill, now House Resolution 4006, in September 1945.

Although no record of congressional debate shows up the first time these bills were introduced, during the second round, the bill was hotly debated by fellow Indiana representatives. Rep. Earl Wilson, whose district much of the purchase units were in, voiced concerns that if 700,000 acres were acquired by the federal government, farmers would be displaced and the ripple effect would hurt local communities.

Wilson expressed concerns over the tax burden on remaining citizens after farmers moved out. He also noted the Shoals dam earlier planned for the White River might then become a reality, and his district would lose fertile bottomland resources.  

In March 1946 Congressman Ludlow brought the bill up again on the House floor and again there was debate. After this, there was no further mention of the Benjamin Harrison Memorial Forest, which had earlier seemed a certainty for Hoosier history and would have meant land acquisition would have proceeded at a much faster rate.

By order of the secretary of agriculture the Hoosier National Forests were officially designated Oct. 1, 1951. After 1951, the Hoosier was no longer the Hoosier Purchase Units but was officially a national forest, now one of 155 national forests in the nation.

In 1949, to streamline administrative and staff functions the Hoosier and Wayne National Forest (Ohio) Purchase Units combined. The two forests operated jointly until Jan. 20, 1993.

At that time the forests officially separated and the Hoosier again regained its own identity.