Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Early Mills, Railroads, and Logging Camps of the Crossett Lumber Company

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Early Mills, Railroads, and Logging Camps of the Crossett Lumber Company

Article excerpt

FROM THE EARLIEST SMALL-SCALE LOGGING and milling operations to the multinational conglomerates of today, the timber industry has long shaped the social and economic history of the southern United States. Nowhere is this more true than in Crossett, Arkansas. Born of the axe and saw, oxen and steam engines, and nurtured by the railroad during its infancy, Crossett was transformed from a remote and virtually unknown tract of rolling pine into one of the leading forest products centers in the United States, yielding enormous quantities of dimensional lumber, paneling, paper and related products, and wood-based chemicals. The story of Crossett through its first forty-five years rests almost exclusively on a single institution-the Crossett Lumber Company-and the cast of characters responsible for its founding and survival.

For most of the nineteenth century, the vast pine, hardwood, and cypress forests of southern Arkansas went largely untouched, with only small logging and milling outfits turning out goods mostly for local consumption.1 Industrial-scale lumbering operations could not begin until railroads and other transportation networks improved and regional timber markets developed. The year 1899 proved a momentous one for the region. Investors formed the Crossett Lumber Company soon after Edgar Woodrow "Cap" Gates (then of the Gates Lumber Company in Wilmar, Arkansas) learned of a 47,000-acre tract of prime virgin pine for sale in Ashley County, Arkansas, and Morehouse Parish, Louisiana. After its incorporation, the Crossett Lumber Company acquired this property from the Muskegon, Michigan-based speculators Horatio N. Hovey and John B. McCracken for $7 per acre, payable over a seven-year period.2 The Crossett Lumber Company was given the right to proceed with its lumbering plans later that same year.3 The company took its name from Edward Savage Crossett, who would serve as vice president. Other officers included: Cap Gates, secretary; Charles W. Gates (Cap's brother), president; and John Watzek, treasurer.4

Cap Gates, who would supervise the day-to-day operations of the Crossett Lumber Company, moved swiftly to start lumber production. But officials in Hamburg, Arkansas, rebuffed his plan to build a sawmill in that city. By 1899, Hamburg already had three sawmills, and local employers did not want to lose any workers to a new outfit. According to John Wordy Buckner, Hamburg civic leaders "did not want the mill to hire their Negroes, and they felt foreign sawmill people in their town would be undesirable."5 Determined to establish the Crossett Lumber Company, Gates scouted other locations in Ashley County before picking a spot for his mill about nine miles southwest of Hamburg, reportedly on the favorite deer stand of a friend, County Judge Jim Lochala.6

Hamburg officials probably felt justified in refusing the Crossett Lumber Company. Standard lumbering practice at the time called for a company to buy timber, build a mill, clear the forest, dismantle the mill, and move on. This "cut-out-and-get-out" strategy typically left extensive cutover lands of little or no value. Companies rarely attempted to sell the cleared properties. Instead, they simply abandoned the land, which reverted back to the county following tax delinquency. Undoubtedly, Cap Gates initially planned to follow this standard practice. Soon after the company's founding, he opened a land office in Hamburg and purchased additional property and timber. By the end of 1900, the company owned almost 100,000 acres. These initial large-scale timber acquisitions ensured several decades of raw materials.7 And what a resource it was! Louis L. Morris, one of the earliest timber and land purchasing agents of the Crossett Lumber Company, reported that when he came to the Crossett area in January 1907, there were individual pines with 7,500 board feet of timber in them-enough to build a three-room house.8

Typically, the first step in constructing facilities the size of Crossett's was to bring in a small mill and cut the heavy construction timbers required for the big mills. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.