A Forest Museum was initially started at Madras (now Chennai) by one J.S. Gamble, the then Conservator of Forests, Madras state towards the end of 19th century and later abandoned for want of space. The idea of starting a Forest Museum was thus aborted at a very stage itself.
The origin of present museum can be traced to one Horace Archibald Gass, the then Conservator of Forests, Coimbatore circle who made the first definite efforts to open a museum dedicated to forestry. It took off in the room and verandahs located upstairs in the Conservator’s office building. Lord Ampthill, the then Governor of Madras opened the museum on 15th April 1902 and in entering his name in the Visitor’s Book made the following remark “ I am delighted to have been the first visitor to the Forest museum and I shall feel interested to hear of the progress of the excellent and novel under taking ”.
The available space was soon found to be inadequate and subsequently office rooms of the District Forest Officers (North & South), Coimbatore were taken up. The Government subsequently sanctioned the construction of a building on 24th March 1905 and appointment of Curator on 01st April 1905. The construction of new building commenced in April 1905 and completed in 1906 at a total cost of Rs. 8,860/- . The new museum building was opened by Sir Arthur Lawley on 05th September 1906. He has recorded the following remark in the Visitor’s Book “ I esteem it a great privilege to have been asked to open the Gass Museum. I wish long life and success to its founder and I hope that every member of the Forest Department will be animated by the same spirit so that the Museum may grow as the years go by”.
Mr. H.A. Gass who saw the commencement of the building retired from service on 12th September 1905, before it was completed and gave over charge to one F.A. Lodge. The government in its G.O dated 18th September 1905 passed the following order,
“In recognition of the fact that the establishment of the Forest Museum at Coimbatore was due to the personal initiative of Mr. H. A. Gass and that its present successful development is due to the energetic interest which he has taken in it, during the tenure of his office as Conservator of Forests in the Southern circle, His Excellency the Governor in council is pleased to direct that the Museum be hereafter known as “The Gass Forest Museum”.
Mr. Eardley Wilmot, Inspector General of Forests paid a visit to the Museum on 8.12.1907 during his tour to this Presidency. He recorded his opinion as a paragraph in his note on Inspection of the Madras forests as follows: “ I have found at Coimbatore a Museum of Forest Products overflowing the available accommodation on all sides and a Forest School for Lower subordinates in which good work was being done. I must express my admiration of the contents and arrangements of the Museum. I consider it superior to that at the Imperial College at Dehra Dun, but the reason for the superiority need not here be discussed it will be sufficient to accept the fact the zeal and energy of the Local Forest Officers have created an Institution which must be of the greatest value to scientific and economic forestry ”.
Later, it was felt to construct a typical museum building along with the forest college to make the museum useful to Forest College, so that the trainees could have easy access. Subsequently on 11th December 1907, F.A. Lodge, Conservator of Forest (Southern circle) submitted proposals regarding the great necessity of opening a Forest college in the vicinity of Agricultural College. This proposal was strongly supported by H. Eardley Wilmot, Inspector General of Forests. He also recommended that Forest Research Centre should be combined with the college and that entire establishment should be under a separate Conservator of Forests. The Board of Revenue supported the proposals. The Member (Forests) along with the Executive Engineer, Coimbatore division, Principal, Agricultural College and Conservator of Forests, Southern circle then inspected the land to select a suitable site for Forest College that was found to the north of agricultural farms about half a mile away.
In August 1909, the Madras government accorded formal sanction for construction of a forest college at Coimbatore. On 01st July 1912, the college was formally opened with one F.L.C. Cowley Brown as Principal of College and C. Srinivasa Rao as Curator of the museum. On 14th October 1915, new buildings of Madras Forest College and Gass Forest Museum were opened by His Excellency, Lord Pentland, the Governor of Madras.
During the World War II, the museum was temporarily closed for few years and the building was made available to the Defence department for housing the refugees from Greece and Malta. During the closure of the museum, most of the wooden specimens were disposed off and some valuable exhibits were spoiled. Many of them were auctioned for want of space. Owing to the keen interest of one J.A. Master, the then Conservator of Forests, Madras, the museum exhibits were saved from auction although a large part was disposed. With the tireless efforts of Sri C.R. Ranganathan, IFS, the then Principal of Forest College, the building was restored to college and was reopened to public.