Prior to 1900, Merryville, Louisiana, had been a sleepy village only a stone's throw from the Sabine River. For a century previously, plantation owners and small farmers had worked, sometimes with slave labor, to girdle and clear enough trees for the cotton fields, that product being most often shipped to marked via such nearby river ports as Stark's Landing or Belgrade. Until 1904, the town consisted principally of only a couple general mercantile stores, a post office, and perhaps a livery stable or physician, to serve a largely rural population - that is, until the rails of the Jasper and Eastern (Santa Fe Railroad) arrived from Kirbyville, Texas, in 1905. With the railroad's arrival, a great body of virgin long leaf pines, as well as hardwoods, became instantly available for harvesting, and sawmills sprang up everywhere. Some of Merryville's mill town neighbors along the Santa Fe rails to Deridder included Neale, Pujo, Sheam, and Grabow.
Very quickly, four sawmills were built in or on the outskirts of Merryville, but only the Smith mill was very large. The C. L. Smith Lumber Company was organized on January 1, 1906, and it immediately began construction of its sawmill about a half-mile north of the Merryville post office. The company owned 15,000 acres of virgin pine timber, that was expected to yield 180,000,000 feet of manufactured lumber. The sawmill building, size 44'x180-feet, consisted of one circular saw, one gang saw, edger and trimmer, and its daily sawing capacity was 90,000 feet. The sawmill's power unit contained one Allis 350 hp. steam engine and three 72"x16-foot boilers.
The Smith mill owned one standard steam dry kiln, size 21'x120-feet, built into two rooms. The planing mill consisted of three 6"x16" planer- matchers and one 16"x30-inch Berlin sizer. The planer power unit included one Allis 125 hp. engine, two 60"x16-foot boilers, and one 35-kilowatt dynamo, that supplied electricity to 600 incandescent lamps and ten arc lights.
The Smith mill also owned six miles of standard gauge tram track to its 'log front.' One locomotive and ten log cars hauled four train loads of logs daily to the log pond. The pond was a dammed-up creek branch, three acres in size, that could hold 600,000 feet of saw logs. The company used mule teams and a McGiffert log skidder and loader at the 'log front' to swamp logs and load the cars.
The Smith company payroll amounted to $10,000, paid monthly to 125 employees. The firm also owned sixty tenant houses, rented at nominal fees to its mill hands. The commissary carried a $15,000 stock of goods and groceries in a building, 38'x100-feet in size, with a dispensary annex building attached for the mill physician, Dr. A. Knight. In April, 1906, James Durham was the firm's general manager, and A. B. Cole was the sawmill foreman. 1
In June, 1907, C. L. Smith Lumber Company was severly hampered by the financial panic of that year, that depressed lumber demand and prices, and by the Santa Fe Railroad's failure to furnish more than half the box cars needed for the mill's export trade. As a result, Smith sold out in July, 1907,to a Beaumont firm, consisting of Joe E. Carroll, president; W. J. Sanders, vice president and manager; and John W. Keith, secretary. Other key operating personnel under Sanders included J. R. Richardson, sawmill foreman; John Smith, planer foreman; James Corley, yard foreman; Walter E. Smith, woods foreman; W. P. Gentz, carpenter foreman; T. S. Walston, dry kiln foreman; C. L. McClain, shipping clerk; W. H. Yawn, sawyer; P. Windham, filer; Clay Dubose, scaler; J. C. Beecher, mill engineer; A. J. Schaffer, checker; J. D. Franklin, planer engineer; and W. A. Moore, bookkeeper. The Beaumont owners endured the same financial hazards that Smith did, and in March, 1908, the new owners defaulted and returned ownership of the mill to C. L. Smith Lumber Company. 2
There were three other sawmills at or near Merryville in 1906-1907, namely, the Baxter sawmill and the Hennigan sawmill, both of which were very small, cutting about 15,000 feet daily. The Sabine River Lumber Company mill had a capacity of 30,000 feet, but because of unprofitable market conditions and box car shortages, its Saint Louis owners shut down the mill during 1907-1908 to await better market conditions. A Mr. -- Murphy managed the Sabine River sawmill. 3
By 1906, the railroad and sawmills had engendered a boom town atmosphere in Merryville, as witness the following quote:
". . . For a year past, Merryville has been on a boom. Hundreds rushed here, and the town was filled with scores of transients who came without any object in mind. These, as a matter of course, "faded away," but their places are taken by a "go ahead" class of citizens....
". . . Notwithstanding, many new buildings have been erected, and the end is not yet in sight. As in the case of all... Western Louisiana towns, the sawmill interests support it.... Fifty years ago, there were settlements in this vicinity, and much of the adjacent territory has been farmed for years.... A horticultural society is being organized so as to create a market..... 4
Hence, Merryville's populace could already foresee an end to the timber boom, and a need to rely on agriculture in the future for permanence.
The boom had already brought Merryville its first good school, apart that is from the one-room variety. A $12,000, two-story school building, size 64'x76-feet, had just been completed. A fine wood-furnace heating system had been installed in the basement. Five school rooms were built on the first floor, and two school rooms and an auditorium were built on the second floor. An office, library, and supporting rooms and equipment were located on both floors, along with a bell tower 77 feet tall. Each room was outfitted with Andrews patent seats and desks, plus opera seats were installed in the auditorium. Professor L. L. Squires of Lake Charles had been selected for school principal. The school board members included T. J. Carroll, Brit Nichols, James Meadows, and Cook Frazier. 5
Merryville was likewise proud of its other new buildings and businesses. A fine new Baptist church, size 36'x66-feet, had just been completed, with a seating capacity of 300 persons. A revival under Rev. T. W. Fowler resulted in 101 conversions. A private telephone system had just been added, which connected Merryville with Deridder. Clara McCall had just added a millinery store in the Windham Building. The First State Bank of Merryville opened on October 1, 1907, with $30,000 authorized and subscribed capital, in a new building at the intersection of the town's two main streets. The sawmill firm of Smith Brothers was cutting pilings and crossties for the railroads. 6
In March, 1908, the C. L. Smith Lumber Company began once more to operate the sawmill that had been defaulted in its favor. And although the lumber economy was still sluggish, the new owner managed to cut on a full ten-hour work day, sawing timbers for the railroads and for export. There were still 150 men on the Smith payroll, making the Smith mill Merryville's only large lumber firm. In May, 1908, the plant's key personnel included J. R. Davidson, superintendent; W. A. Moore, bookkeeper; E. G. Hart, timekeeper; Bert Martin, sawmill foreman; E. W. Patton, planer foreman; E. N. McLean, yard foreman; W. E. Smith, woods foreman; S. A. Lanier, mill engineer; J. D. Moberly, checker; J. B. Franklin, planer engineer; William Bean, locomotive engineer; W. H. Yawn, sawyer; Frank Hutchinson, filer; Clyde Smith, commissary manager; Jim Parker, A. L. Smith, John Foster, clerks; and J. Henderson, butcher. 7
In 1908, there were also good prospects for an excellent farm harvest and peach crop. A baseball club had just been organized, and the players were engaged in clearing a baseball diamond and negotiating for uniforms. The Commercial Club, headed by Prof. Squires, was a body of men devoted to civic improvement, building sidewalks, clearing gutters and streets of debris, etc. The only fraternal group mentioned was organization of Merryville's Rebekah Lodge on April 29, 1908, with Mrs. J. B. Franklin elected as Noble Grand. 8
In the fall of 1908, Merryville suffered two disastrous fires that affected the community's economic well-being, but fortunately there was no loss of life. On September 17th, the combination J. E. M. Hennigan mill burned down, a $10,000 loss, except that a few thousand feet of lumber drying on the yard were saved, and since the owner had no insurance, it was doubtful if it would be rebuilt. Although small, the Hennigan mill provided valuable community services and gave permanent employment to about eight persons. As the largest cotton gin in town, it ginned most of the neighborhood's cotton, including the owner's plantation, between August and November. On Saturdays, the mill ground only corn meal, and it sawed rough lumber the remainder of the year. The sawmill consisted of a boiler, a 70 hp. steam engine, and a single circular saw, that cut 12,000 to 15,000 feet daily. 9
At 12:30 AM of November 9, 1908, the 30-room Hall City Hotel and its adjoining restaurant burned down, a $40,000 loss. However, the town had an instantaneous hero in the proprietor, Joseph Carter. Before even putting on his own shoes, Carter carried three upstairs children to safety, who were still asleep and in bed clothes. An article noted that as Carter: 10
". . . carried them out, the ceilings of the rooms in which they were sleeping were in flames, and as he left the room going down the stairway with the last child, the entire roof of the building caved in, but all escaped without personal injury.....
Both buildings and all furniture and fixtures were a total loss, and although Carter carried $1,000 insurance, the owner believed he would be unable to rebuild.
Sawing lumber proved to be a way of life at Merryville for about twenty years, or until the middle 1920's, by which time Southwest Louisiana's magnificent forests had been reduced to a cutover wasteland of stumps. In time, Merryville's economy did revert largely to its former agricultural base, whereby urban and rural familes more or less "lived off each other." Nevertheless, Merryville continues to remain a vibrant community in Beauregard Parish's eastern half, with its residents generally varying in the 1,500-1,600 population bracket.