Grey Towers, the lush family/summer home of the founder of the United States Forest Service, still stands as probably the grandest, if not the only mansion preserved and operated by the agency he started.
Located in Milford, Pennsylvania, the grand manse known as Grey Towers was built in 1886 by wallpaper magnate, James Pinchot. The house was built in a distinctly French style to pay homage to the family’s homeland. The most striking feature of the summer home was the pair of tall peaked towers that rose off the sides, and gave the building its name. Most of the materials used in the construction were locally sourced, but the elder Gifford eventually regretted his destruction of the local wilderness and even started a small forestry school on the property for a time.
The estate was passed on to his son, Gifford Pinchot, in the early 20th century. Gifford had become the first chief of the United States Forest Service in 1905, taking a lead from his father’s environmental views. Gifford and his wife continued to add to the already lovely estate, adding a moated side house for use as an office and storage space, and a unique outdoor dinner table that had a pool in the center where bowls of food would be floated for guests seated around the rim to take part in. This feature was called, “The Finger Bowl.”
The estate was donated to the Forest Service in 1963, and the agency continues to maintain the space to this day, one of the only National Historic Landmarks under their purview. Tours of the mansion are available, although dinners at The Finger Bowl are probably a thing of the past.