(This story is committed to Dogwood Press for publication in Frontier Tales of the Texas-Louisiana Borderlands.)
The earliest lumber manufacturing along the shores of Lake Charles around 1835 included pine saplings, notched for log cabins; or crudely sawed boards, cut in an up-down motion in a whipsaw pit; or cypress shingles, made with a special draw knife. Steam sawmilling arrived there in 1855 when Captain Daniel Goos moved his steam sawmill from Mississippi to Goosport, where his three upright sash saws cut 11,000 feet daily. His son-in-law, Captain George Locke operated his steam mill on Prien Lake, and both mills shipped 4,000,000 feet of cypress lumber annually to Galveston on their schooners Lehman, Lake Charles, Emma Thornton, and Winnebago. In 1857, Goos built the 100-foot white oak steamboat Dan, principally to tow his schooners through Calcasieu River, Lake, and Pass when winds were calm. 1
By 1876, the H. C. Drew Lumber Company's steam mill had also been built in Lake Charles, and others followed in rapid succession. By February, 1901, the four steam sawmills at Lake Charles included Bradley-Ramsey Lumber Company, which cut 100,000 feet daily; J. A. Bel Lumber Company, 60,000 feet; Drew and Powell, 30,000; and Lake City Lumber Company, 40,000 feet. 2 By September, 1906, there were seven sawmills there, namely, Long-Bell Lumber Company, two mills, 250,000 feet; Hodge Fence and Lumber Company, 100,000 feet; J. C. Stout, 40,000; J. A. Bel, 75,000; L. B. Menefee Lumber Company, 65,000; and J. G. Powell Lumber Company, 60,000 feet daily, exclusive of other mills at Westlake. 3 By 1906, the city's daily cutting capacity was 465,000 feet.
In 1884, the Calcasieu Lumber Company was organized and incorporated at Lake Charles, and in 1886, ownership passed to Bradley- Ramsey Lumber Company, which for more than twenty years furnished Lake Charles' largest payroll. For a short time, the mill cut only cypress, but by 1890, cypress logs had become so scarce that the mill gradually converted to long leaf pine. In 1901, Bradley-Ramsey updated its Goosport machinery by adding a single-cutting band saw, a large 72" circular saw, and an 18-inch gang saw, thus increasing the Goosport mill's daily capacity to 150,000 feet. The firm then added a second mill at Mount Hope, a quarter- mile distant, where a 72" circular and one gang saw cut 100,000 feet daily. Both mills had access to the Calcasieu River, had their own water systems for self use and fire protection, and were likewise hooked up to the Lake Charles city waterworks as well.
When the Goosport mill began cutting yellow pine, the owners gradually bought up a long leaf "stumpage reserve" (uncut timber), amounting to 105,000 acres north of Lake Charles. When Bradley-Ramsey sold out in March, 1906, the proprietors still owned 65,000 acres of uncut virgin pine timber. Although the mills continued to receive some logs floated downriver, Bradley-Ramsey Lumber Company also built and chartered its own tram road, the 36-mile long Lake Charles and Leesville Railroad, which ran from Moos Bay to Bannister, north of Longville. In February, 1906, the mills used seven locomotives and 120 tram cars between Lake Charles and the company's "log front" near Longville. In the 1915 railroad map of Louisiana, a line identified as the Lake Charles and Navigation Railroad ran northward to Deridder, and it looked suspiciously like the same line.
The Bradley-Ramsey mills cut and exported more "battleship decking" (2"x6" centermatch) than any other sawmill in the world. Other products included 60,000 fence pickets daily, ripsaw flooring, ties and railroad bridge and trestle timbers, and dimension lumber. The "log boom," planing mill, dry kilns, tram, drysheds, and loading dock were generally shared by both mills. The steam kiln was a brick, 10-room Payne and Joubert kiln, capable of drying 140,000 feet daily. The planing mill included seven planer-matchers and moulders, four picket machines, ripsaw, resaw, edger, and cutoff saws. There were also log haul-ups, blowpipes and elevators to carry away sawdust, shavings, and slabs to the two burners. There were also six dry sheds for finished lumber and a large water tank and standpipe, elevated 100 feet. In February, 1906, both mills employed 350 mill hands, paid total wages of $40,000 monthly: "no one company puts more money into circulation in Lake Charles than does the Bradley- Ramsey....."
Company officers included William E. Ramsey, president; C. W. Penoyer, vice president; and Charles S. Ramsey, secretary-treasurer. Other key personnel in February, 1906, included Andrew Caldwell, bookkeeper; Edgar Irwin, assistant bookkeeper; Frank Shattuck, invoice clerk; Ray Morse, timekeeper; L. C. Dees, Mount Hope sawmill foreman; James A. Gray, Goosport sawmill foreman; A. S. LaBesse, Mount Hope planer foreman; Louis Bogart, Goosport planer foreman; -- Holloman, Mount Hope saw filer; C. T. Martin, Goosport band saw filer; and Perry Burr, Goosport circular saw filer. In February, 1906, the two mills cut 5,000,000 feet, or an estimated annual capacity of 54,000,000 feet when box cars were plentiful. 4
Beginning in February, 1906, rumors became rampant that Bradley- Ramsey was selling out to Long-Bell Lumber Company of Kansas City. In fact, W. E. Ramsey was out-of-town, reportedly negotiating the sale and seeking to convince the Bradley stockholders to sell out for the reputed sum of $4,000,000. Long-Bell already had two wholly-owned subsidiaries, Hudson River Lumber Company of Deridder and King-Rider Lumber Company of Bon Ami, the latter cutting 350,000 feet (day and night shifts) daily, making it second only to the Fullerton sawmill.
Like Central Coal and Coke Company (Neame, Carson) and W. R. Pickering Company (Pickering, Cravens, Barham), Long-Bell was another of the Midwestern retail lumber dealers, headquartered in Kansas City, who were seeking new sources of raw materials after the Michigan and Wisconsin forests were depleted. And it was only natural for them to follow the rails of Kansas City Southern, as they were spiked to the crossties on the right-of-way south of Shreveport. In February-March, 1906, a Long-Bell excursion train, carrying top officials and customers, inspected all the Long- Bell sawmill plants, Bon Ami, Deridder, and Lufkin, Texas, before proceeding to Lake Charles to visit the propective newest member, the Bradley-Ramsey mills. 5
On March 16, 1906, Long-Bell Lumber Company made the long- awaited anouncement - their purchase of Bradley-Ramsey Lumber Company, along with its two sawmills, 105,000 acres of timberlands, the Lake Charles and Leesville Railroad, and the Lake Charles Chemical Company for four million dollars. The transaction completed the largest transfer of sawmill property and timberlands ever negotiated in Southwest Louisiana prior to 1906. The purchase brought Long-Bell's daily production of lumber at its five plants to about 800,000 feet daily. 6
Almost immediately, Long-Bell reorganized the two Lake Charles sawmills as Calcasieu Long Leaf Lumber Companmy, with R. A. Long as president; C. B. Sweet, vice president; F. J. Bannister, secretary; and S. T. Woodring, treasurer and general manager, all of them of Kansas City. As was that firm's customary pattern, the same men who were principals of the large Kansas City wholesale-retail division were also officers of the various subsidiary sawmills. 7
Very quickly, Long-Bell also began to remodel and upgrade the Goosport sawmill by adding a new 14" band saw, a double-circular saw, a 48" Wickes gang saw, an Allis double edger and overhead trimmer, to increase daily cutting capacity to 200,000 feet. Seven brick dry kilns were also added, to increase daily capacity to 150,000 feet. Four brick and concrete dry sheds, each size 80'x560-feet, were built with a storage capacity of 10,000,000 feet.
A new electric light plant and water supply building was constructed. A large dynamo furnished electricity to 1,800 incandescent lamps and 63 arc lights, capable of lighting the mill and residential area to full brilliancy. Five new water and fire pumps were added to supply the 6-inch water mains. A new 100'x300-foot planing mill was built, to include 13 Berlin planer- matchers and moulders, a picket header, a band resaw, edger, ripsaw, cutoff saws, fans and blowers. A new Corliss steam engine was installed to rotate only the planing mill machinery. 8
The Goosport key personnel included S. T. Woodring, general manager; William Peters, superintendent; C. S. Ragland, cashier; J. D. Tennant, chief clerk; Roy Morse, purchasing agent; A. M. Myer, bookkeeper; J. T. Graye, sawmill foreman; Allen McKinney, planer foreman; F. A. Frere, yard foreman; Ed. Farlow, dry kiln foreman; J. M. Soward, shipping clerk; W. A. Calhoun, Otis Pray, W. R. Bradley, checkers; C. P. Martin, W. Peters, filers; Clarence Brown, Jesse Thom, Frank Shielders, sawyers; Sam Lyons, master mechanic; Wm. Rich, B. Smith, N. Purson, millwrights; Joe Stout, mill engineer; J. M. Glover, planer engineer; and Henry Reese, supply clerk. 9
The Calcasieu Long Leaf company quickly built up a large export trade, principally of railroad timbers for Mexico, and the cut of the Mount Hope mill went exclusively to fill that demand. Unlike most mills, the Calcasieu firm operated no commissary nor a mill check system. The 350 employees were paid in currency each Saturday, which they spent with the Lake Charles merchants. Likewise, the company endowed no schools or churches, since the employees and their families attended the city's public schools and churches. 10
By 1908, most of the old Bradley-Ramsey sawmill equipment had been scrapped and replaced with new machinery. That included a new power plant, where one 26"x32-inch Wickes Corliss engine rotated the band and circular mills. A separate 20"x24-inch Wickes engine energized the gang saw, dynamo, and pumps. And a third engine supplied the power to the planing mill. Five 84"x18-foot Casey and Hedges boilers generated 1,500 horsepower of steam to the engines. The Calcasieu mill was also supplied with an elevated burner for its slab waste and an elevated water tank and standpipe for its water system. 11
Also in 1906, Long-Bell built its large Longville sawmill, with its 150,000 feet daily capacity. That mill burned in 1920 and was never rebuilt; its planer was converted to an oak flooring plant. In 1913, Long-Bell bought out the big Ludington sawmill, along with its 65,000 acres of timberlands, and 2,000 acres of the Ludington pine trees were transferred to the Calcasieu Long Leaf stumpage reserve. By 1913, the six Long-Bell sawmills in Southwest Louisiana wee cutting 1,000,000 feet daily, which leveled the company forests at an unparalleled pace. The Lake Charles Mount Hope sawmill was one of the first to dismantle. The Bon Ami sawmill cut out in 1925 and was dismantled. The Ludington mill cut out in 1928. The Longville oak flooring facility was moved to the Hudson River plant at Deridder in 1927, and Longville became a ghost town. 12 The writer has no further information about the Calcasieu firm's Goosport mill, but he believes that cutover timberlands and the stifling of lumber demand in 1931 by the Great Depression finally forced the closing of the Lake Charles plant.
Perhaps from the days of Columbus, the beautiful, stately cypress and long leaf forests of Southwest Louisiana were foredoomed to destruction by the axe as soon as the Europeans arrived. The Kansas City concerns certainly played out their roles, leaving very little in their wake except ghost towns and a wasteland of cutover stumps. Fortunately, the five units of the Kisatchie National Forest survive today, along with huge acreages of large, private wood-working concerns, who understand that reforestration is vital to the economic future of Western Louisiana.