In 1936, an old farm field in Cherokee Pass was planted with shortleaf pine trees. Today, this stand of mature timber is known as the Sarah Barton Murphy Memorial Forest. What follows is the story of how this forest was established and its 79-year history.
It was 1936 and no national forest had yet to be established in Missouri, but Forest Service officials were in the Fredericktown and Potosi areas purchasing lands for what would become the Clark National Forest (in 1939), and later the Mark Twain National Forest. These lands had typically been timbered, burned, and/or overgrazed, and were no longer productive for farming.
At the same time, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) had adopted a conservation program known as the Penny Pines program. Each state was to have a memorial forest by the DAR 50th Anniversary (circa 1940). Each DAR chapter across the country was to pledge, at the very least, one acre of pine seedlings.
The Sarah Barton Murphy Chapter of the DAR, which was established in 1914 in Farmington, accepted this national challenge. Funds were raised and given to the Forest Service to purchase pine seedlings, which were said to be a penny a seedling. The Forest Service, working with the Civilian Conservation Corps planted the pine seedlings in the 22-acre field in Cherokee Pass.
This project was occurring during the Depression years and no one knows how the Sarah Barton Murphy Chapter raised the funds. The Penny Pines program often involved school children who saved their pennies to help purchase trees. It was patriotic and popular enough that stores and post offices often set up buckets in which people could place their pennies. It is possible the DAR worked with children and the community to buy the pine seedlings.
Over the years, the Forest Service has continued to manage the Sarah Barton Murphy Memorial Forest. Records show a prescribed fire was used to control the understory in 1972 and it was thinned in 1973. Some of the trees were broken and blown over in a wind event a few years ago. In its almost 80 year history, the Memorial Forest has changed from a shortleaf pine plantation to a mixed oak-pine forest.
The Forest Service recently hosted a field trip to the Memorial Forest for members of the Sarah Barton Murphy Chapter. The group talked about ideas for future management; ideas generated included putting in a native plant garden around the new sign, re-establishment of the geocache site, an annual trash clean-up day, control of non-native invasive plants, and perhaps a thinning of the midstory shrubs and trees.
Chapter members remarked how peaceful a place it is – many forest birds were singing and the small stream could be heard churning over the rocks. All participants on the field trip stated how wonderful it would be to visit with anyone who participated in this project in the 1930s, or heard first-hand stories about it.
To find the Sarah Barton Murphy Memorial Forest, travel to Cherokee Pass and turn west onto Highway C from U. S. Highway 67. Travel less than one-quarter mile on Highway C and turn south (left) on Madison County Road 401. The sign for the Memorial Forest will be on the right, about a mile down the county road. There are no facilities or developed trails in the Memorial Forest, but like other places in the Mark Twain National Forest, visitors are welcome to poke around and enjoy this interesting area.