Newton B. Drury: League Leader, Conservation Hero

Newton B. Drury is remembered as one of the great conservationists of American history.

Newton B. Drury
Newton B. Drury

His lifetime leadership with Save the Redwoods League was instrumental to the League’s success in raising $25 million and preserving 135,000 acres of redwood forest (the size of 11 Manhattan islands) for addition to 30 state redwood parks in California.

His involvement with California State Parks has tied the League to that organization in a longstanding partnership that will continue to provide recreation and inspiration for years to come.

Drury served as Executive Director of the League from 1919 to 1939, and from the 1950s to 1971; President from 1971 to 1975; and Chairman of the Board until his death in December 1978.

He was born in San Francisco on April 19, 1889. He studied literature and rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, where he became student body president and a leader of the campus progressives. After graduation in 1912, he taught English literature and forensics at the university and was an assistant to university president Benjamin Ide Wheeler.

In 1919, Drury and his brother, Aubrey, founded the Drury Brothers Company, an advertising and public relations agency. Later that year, Save the Redwoods League asked Drury Brothers to manage the League, and Newton became the League’s Executive Secretary, the equivalent of Executive Director today. Drury’s skills in diplomacy and persuasiveness guided the League’s rapid growth and recognition.

Drury played an integral role in the creation of a centralized state park system in California: He served as the Secretary to the California State Park Committee and was charged with gathering public support for the senate bills that would create a state park commission. In 1927, when the State Park Commission was established, he was appointed as its Land Acquisitions Officer.

In 1940, Drury was awarded the Cornelius Amory Pugsley Silver Medal Award for his work at Save the Redwoods League. Under 20 years of Drury’s leadership, the League had preserved nearly 50,000 acres of coast redwoods (the size of 4 Manhattan islands), as well as the Calaveras Grove of giant sequoias. In 1940, at the onset of World War II, Drury became the Director of the National Park Service. His devotion to conservation protected national park resources from being exploited as training sites for mountain warfare and logged for sitka spruce used in airplane construction. His leadership in the National Park Service earned him the Pugsley Gold Medal Award in 1950.

In 1951, Drury returned to California to resume work with his beloved Save the Redwoods League and to accept appointment as the Director of the California Division of Beaches and Parks. In 1959, Drury left California State Parks to return to the League as its Executive Director. By that time, the California state park system had grown under Drury’s leadership to 150 parks, beaches and historic monuments.

Source: Engbeck, Joseph H. State Parks of California from 1864 to the present. Portland, Oregon: Graphic Arts Center Publishing Co., 1980.