Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Timber Industry Deep-Rooted in Clay

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Timber Industry Deep-Rooted in Clay

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Jo McTammany

From the coming of the original settlers to the area now known as Clay County until the late 1900s, the timber industry provided the sustaining fuel of the economy.

Everyone made money whether they ever stepped into the woods or not - shop keepers, sawmill operators and carpenters who fashioned that raw lumber into buildings, businesses, hotels and homes.

In the early 1800s, naturalist John Audubon wrote of the live oak cutters he found in what is now Green Cove Springs. From December to May, crews dispatched south by northern ship builders lived in crude shelters and felled the majestic trees highly sought for decking and masts on large ocean-going vessels.

It is not surprising that among the early settlers at the forks of Black Creek (now Middleburg) was Ozias Budington and several members of his northeastern seafaring family dynasty. They and others recognized early the potential in Clay County's rich natural resources - dense, seemingly endless forests and the waterways of Black Creek feeding into the St. Johns River affording easy transport to world-wide markets.

After the Civil War, it was the harvest and sale of timber that allowed the county to rebuild. Large operators like Budington and Samuel Thompson were in Middleburg to restore fortunes and that meant jobs and making a living to many others.

But everything began with the men and boys in the woods.

Boys began early, maybe 6 or 7 years old, with an ax in the backyard cutting firewood and kindling to feed the fireplace in the winter and the wood-cooking stove year round. It wasn't long before they would be out in nearby woods taking that ax to small trees and cutting them to size for fence posts.

At around 8 years old, Roy Green was dispatched with his uncle into the woods up near Bull Creek Swamp near Middleburg to cut dock pilings to fill a family contract with a client. …

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