John P. Saylor
Conservationist in Congress

John Phillips Saylor (1908-1973) was born on a farm near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, to parents who passed along their great respect for the environment to their son. After receiving a degree from Dickinson College Law School in 1933, he joined his father's law firm in Johnstown. During World War II, Saylor joined the U.S. Navy, and served in the Pacific. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1949, and held a seat in Congress until his death in 1973. During his time in office, he became best known for his support of legislation that would preserve scenic natural areas of the country. In his home state, he opposed the Kinzua Dam, which was proposed as a means of flood control on the Allegheny River. Saylor claimed that the dam would not have a significant impact upon flood protection in the area and that it would destroy one of the last unspoiled stretches of the river. Also, it would lead to the appropriation of Seneca Nation lands, which would violate a treaty made between them and the United States in 1794. Kinzua Dam was ultimately built, but Saylor continued his preservation efforts and eventually became more successful. One of his main efforts in this field was his Scenic Rivers Bill. This bill proposed the protection of several rivers that were designated as "scenic" and made allowances for other rivers to be given this same protection. After several modifications, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was finally passed in 1968. Saylor received many honors and accolades for his work in getting the bill through Congress. His work on this and other conservation legislation did much to help protect valuable scenic areas of the nation.

John P. Saylor Fishing (Click on image for a full-size view)
"His father . . . was an avid hiker, hunter, and angler who instilled a passion for those outdoor activities in his sons. The family joined a Sportsmen's Association that owned a hunting and fishing camp in Potter County and throughout his life John Saylor took refuge at Lost Cabin."

-- Thomas G. Smith, author of Voice for Scenic Rivers : John P. Saylor of Pennsylvania

John P. Saylor Enjoying a Horseback Ride
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Starting in 1957, Saylor begain voicing his strong opposition to the construction of the Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River near Warren. Styled a "nature-loving obstructionist" by one of his congressional colleagues, he opposed the dam because its high cost ($120 million) and size, its debatable effectiveness on flood control and the Army Corps of Engineers' stubborn refusal to study alternative plans, its destruction of one of the most scenic stretches of river in Pennsylvania, and most of all because of its breaking of the 1794 treaty with the Senecas, the oldest federal treaty that was still in effect at that time.

" . . . [Y]our great object seems to be the security of your remaining lands, and I have therefore, upon this point, meant to be sufficiently strong and clear. That in the future you cannot be defrauded of your lands; that you possess the right to sell and the right of refusing to sell your lands."

-- President George Washington, Proclamation to Chief Cornplanter of the Senecas, December 29, 1790

Members of the Seneca Nation
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" . . . [T]his [Treaty of 11 November 1794] is a new and important security guard against your being cheated; and shows the faithful care which the United States now means to take for the protection of your lands."

-- Timothy Pickering, personal envoy of President Washington, to the Senecas, 1794

Despite the Opposition of Saylor and others, and several suits made by the Seneca Nation against the Army Corps of Engineers, which were ultimately dismissed by the Supreme Court, the Treaty of 1794 was broken, and construction of the Kinzua Dam began in 1960.

Construction at Kinzua Dam
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The Kinzua Dam caused the complete inundation of almost 10,000 acres of Seneca lands, and rendered another 20,000 acres of their land virtually useless because of periodic flooding caused by fluctuating water levels in the reservoir. Almost 700 members of the Seneca Nation were forced to relocate. The federal government eventually compensated the Senecas $15 million for the land and the relocation costs.

In appreciation for his contributions to the opposition of the Kinzua Dam, the Seneca Nation made Saylor an honorary member on 15 September 1962.
(Click on image for a full-size view)

Kinzua Dam and Allegheny Reservoir Statistics

  • Construction: 1960 to 1966

  • Cost: $120 million

  • Height of Dam: 179 feet

  • Length of Dam: 1915 feet

  • Length of Reservoir: 27 miles (average)

  • 91 miles of shoreline

  • 12,000 to 20,000 acres of water surface area (depending on water level)

After several versions of a scenic rivers bill failed to gain enough votes in Congress, Saylor in 1966 introduced his own comprehensive Scenic Rivers Bill into the House. Drafted with the assistance of the Interior Department's Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, the Audubon Society, and other conservation groups, the bill called for widespread protection of the nation's free-flowing rivers.
Saylor visiting the Kinzua Dam, late-1960s.
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Kinzua Dam proved to be a popular destination for outdoor recreation.
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Despite the initial opposition to the Kinzua Dam, it has since proven to be a popular destination for outdoor recreation. Approximately one million people visit the Kinzua Dam and the adjoining Allegheny National Forest annually.

Saylor hoped that the Scenic Rivers Bill would prevent any further development of America's unspoiled rivers, such as this western power project.
(Click on image for a full-size view)

Saylor's bill met much opposition in the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, of which he was a member. He vowed to "hit, kick, and scratch" in order to get his bill passed. When a fellow representative introduced a competing, less-inclusive bill, Saylor saw this as an opportunity to forge a compromise bill. This compromise passed in the Senate 84-0, but still met resistance by development-minded members of the House. Upon further pressure by Saylor, conservationists, and the public, the House finally approved the bill 265-7.
Saylor making his views known at a committee meeting
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Salmon River, Idaho -- protected, 1968
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The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 2, 1968. The act stated that "[i]t is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which . . . possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they . . . shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations." The act immediately protected eight rivers and placed twenty-seven more on a "study list" for possible future inclusion. Saylor was dubbed "Mr. Conservation" by his colleagues for his diligent work on the bill.
Klamath River, California -- protected, 1981
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President Lyndon B. Johnson and Saylor commemorating the passage of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in October 1968
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South Fork of Kings River, California -- protected 1987
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The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is enforced up to the present. Rivers are periodically added to the protected list. From eight rivers covering 850 miles in 1968, the system has grown by the mid-1990s to include 151 units comprising parts of 212 rivers that cover 10,500 miles. Saylor's conservation legacy has remained a vital part of our country's efforts to preserve the natural environment.
Grande Ronde River, Oregon -- protected 1988
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Youghiogheny River, Pennsylvania -- study list
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Izaak Walton League Award to Saylor
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Saylor receiving the 1970 Izaak Walton Award as a "Defender of Soil, Woods, Waters, and Wildlife
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Saylor was the recipient of many awards for his involvement in conservation efforts. From the Ozark National Scenic Riverways Act in 1964, the first federally protected rivers, to the Wilderness Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Saylor's accomplishments have been praised as essential to the preservation of our country's natural scenic resources.
John P. Saylor : Friend of the Environment
(Click on image for a full-size view)

The John P. Saylor Collection (MG 18) is housed in the Special Collections and Archives Department of the Patrick J. Stapleton Library at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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