Making Missouri Green

The people who plant the seeds and package the bundles have changed. Buildings have expanded and changed colors. Yet through its existence, the role of the George O. White State Forest Nursery has remained the same. Since 1935, the nursery, located in Texas County, approximately three miles northwest of Licking, has provided millions of trees to Missouri landowners and forest industries for conservation planting.

This year, the nursery is celebrating 50 years of tree production under the Missouri Department of Conservation. The Conservation Department took over the nursery from the United States Forest Service in 1947 and distributed its first crop of seedlings in 1948.

In 1934, the Forest Service designated national forests in Missouri. Thousands of acres were in need of reforestation after indiscriminate logging and wildfires wiped out much of Missouri's forests. George O. White, a Forest Service forester, selected the original 40-acre site for the nursery in 1934. He chose the site because it was centrally located within the national forests and the soil looked good for growing shortleaf pine trees. The Forest Service purchased the acreage in 1935 for $1,430. White later became Missouri's first state forester in 1936.

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Work Projects Administration workers, employed by the Forest Service, constructed a home for the head nurseryman, a shop and warehouse, a deep well and a cold storage building. Workers also built two barracks, where they slept, plus a kitchen and mess hall.

Robert Miller, a native of Warsaw, went to work in 1935 at the CCC Camp, earning $1 a day. After a 1934 drought, Miller helped install the first overhead water lines on 27 acres of the nursery. "In those days, you lived in barracks with 200 men and sowed the seeds with a spade," Miller says.

The nursery continued operation until 1942, when World War II disrupted funds for reforestation. The irrigation system was dismantled and shipped to California as a part of the war effort to establish rubber plantations. The Forest Service leased the nursery grounds to a Licking farmer for crop production and shipped many nursery workers, including Miller, to Sullivan, to work at the Meramec State Nursery.

The Forest Service reopened the nursery in 1947, growing primarily shortleaf pine trees on a small portion of the 15 acres of seedbed space. In August of that same year, the Conservation Department signed a 25-year permit with the Forest Service