Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 10: Built Environment
Leon Deschamp The Perfect Acre
TAGS: forestry demonstration site ; silva culture ; forestry ; Leon Deschamps ; environment education ;
Leon Deschamps’ The Perfect Acre was a cultivated forest designed to be a best example of silva culture. The experimental project was begun by Leon Deschamps in 1917 when he came to the School to teach forestry to the children.
….[Y]our Belgian forester, Mr. Deschamps, came in November and is doing such valuable work in our Pine Mountain forest. You know the evening I met him at your house, he offered to do this. He is teaching forestry to all the children in school, and in the afternoon he takes the boys out and they all work in the woods, he teaching them how to tell the sound and the diseased trees apart, how to cord wood, how to clear out the undergrowth, and so many many necessary and valuable things.
They are working on a specimen perfect acre now, and I never go about the place but what some of the boys stop me to tell me all the interesting things that they have learned in the woods…..We like Mr. Deschamps so much, as we see him fitting into our life. He loves the social side of it, and is a great addition.
According to an early PMSS trustee, Darwin D. Martin, Deschamps’ “Perfect Acre” was developed as a forestry demonstration site. Arabella de Long describes an evening picnic held there following the first meeting of the PMSS Board of Trustees in October 1919:
It was a most excellent supper and I am sure everyone enjoyed it and the good talk afterward. There were three fires—Luigi [Zande] cooked the chicken, Evelyn [Wells] and Miss Martin the sweet potatoes, Ethel [de Long Zande] the pancakes and Leon the coffee…. Things were a bit smokey at times (I mean tasty) and the sweet potatoes were pretty brown… The two men and Evelyn helped to serve: we all ate bountifully. The cooks, save Dorothy, had their supper after the others, and when they had finished Luigi and Leon made a big fire and we waited until we could see the moon ‘over the top.
It was indeed a very special place in the early years. It was also well-guarded to maintain Leon’s idea of its development as a natural forest without human interference. Later, when aggressive plants moved in, there was much debate as to whether to tamper with the one-acre plot. Katherine Pettit was probably the most protective of the site. Her letter to Mr. and Mrs. Deschamps of October 15, 1925, indicates her interest:
I am so glad, Mr. Deschamps, to have your letter and the job you have given me to do in the Perfect Acre. I shall do my best to get the walnuts planted. I don’t know what the “lot next to the Perfect Acre” is. Do you mean the one toward the Zandes’ or the one toward Limestone Branch? We are keeping the space between the Perfect Acre and the Zandes’ plowed for potatoes now and it might be hard to get walnuts to grow there.
Nearly three years later, Miss Pettit expresses her concerns in a letter to Mr. L. F. Deschamps in Brasstown, N.C.:
July 2, 1928
Dear Mr. Deschamps:
You remember you told me never to go into the Perfect Acre, and do one single thing, unless you told me to. There is so much underbrush now,especially ironweed, that I believe something ought to be done about it. We have done a pretty good job getting rid of the ironweed on this place, and are at work now on dock and ragweed.
When I asked Mr. Browning if he could give a day’s work to getting the ironweed out of the perfect acre, he reminded me again of your orders. now if you have any further directions, please tell me. …
Over times, respect for the original purpose of Deschamps’ “Perfect Acre” gradually waned. The trees and other vegetation grew and the site has seen much “pruning” and timbering. Although still a verdant place that can be seen from the windows of the south flank of the Chapel, one can only wonder at Deschamps’ reaction to these various activities. Nevertheless, his contributions to the landscape, as well as to environmental education at Pine Mountain Settlement School, have not faded from memory and his legacy continues to this day.