Historical Articles by W. T. Block

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Following the building of the Kansas City Southern and the St. Louis, Watkins and Southern Railroads into Western Louisiana during the 1890's, there was a headlong rush to harvest the virgin pine forests because finally there was a means to ship lumber to market. The most notable of the sawmills, of 100,000-feet daily capacity and up, were principally owned by Midwestern retail lumber dealers, who had seemingly inexhaustible funds to invest in timberlands and equipment. There were also medium-sized mills, 25,000 to 50,000 feet in size, that sometimes were owned by a single person, but most often consisted of partnerships or joint stock companies. The smallest of the sawmills, of which there were many, were often portable mills with a small engine, boiler, and a 50-inch single circular saw, and such mills usually cut only rough lumber, which was marketed to larger firms, and were often moved from one small tract of timber to another.


In 1908, J. G. Powell owned sawmills both at Lake Charles and Edna, the latter located midway between Fenton and Kinder. In 1905, Powell owned 30,000 acres of land west of Oberlin, into which he built a tram road 13 miles long. Logs for the Lake Charles mill were hauled to Jonas' Bluff, from whence they were skidded into the Calcasieu River and then floated 40 miles downriver to Powell's Lake Charles river boom, although those statistics would change within two years. Beaumont Enterprise of July 22, 1905, reported that the J. G. Powell sawmill at Goosport burned down, a $40,000 loss with very little insurance, but would soon be rebuilt.   1  By 1907, Powell had also built a sawmill at Edna, as the following news report confirmed:  2

". . .This is a comparatively new mill, the other mill owned by the same company being at Lake Charles. Edna is located on the Watkins (St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern), six miles north of Fenton, the latter being at present the post office, but in a few days Edna will have its own postal facilities....

". . .The present mill has a daily capacity of 60,000 feet. It has a combination sizer. The orders are largely from the railroads and for export. The present yard stock approximates 2,000,000 feet, and this mill runs ten hours daily. Fifty (tenant) houses, a commodious commissary, carrying a $4,000 stock of goods, and a boarding house ample for all needs has been built. There is a natural pond and a 330- foot well that furnishes excellent water for the mill and drinking purposes....

". . .At present the logging for this mill and the one in Lake Charles is done three miles from this mill. There are seventeen miles of track and three locomotives. The logs for the Lake Charles mill are dumped into the Calcasieu River at Hecker's Bluff and are rafted down the river for fifteen miles. The superintendent for the railroad and logging departments is Mr. D. A. Kelley, a veteran woodsman, who also has a stock interest in the company. That the mills never lack logs speaks volumes in his behalf. The mills have a fifteen year cut (stumpage reserve), and two steamers tow the logs down to Lake Charles. At present there are 65 mill hands in the Edna plant and 60 in the woods...

As of Jun, 1908, the officers of Powell Lumber Company included W. T. Webber, prsident; D. A. Kelley, vice president; and George M. King, secretary-treasurer. Other key personnel included G. M. King, superintendent; R. H. Arrington, sawmill foreman; M. D. Chitwood, shipping clerk; C. C. Carter, bookkeeper and commissary manager; Grover Kelley, billing clerk; John Miller, mill engineer; J. A. Prescott, Hy Blankenship, Hy Grant, locomotive engineers; Will Hollingsworth, team boss; Chester Smith, saw boss; and --Stanlon, sawyer.

As of June, 1908, the mill equipment included one double circular sawmill, a planing mill, and one dry kiln. About half of the plant employees were black, and a church house had already been built for them. A school house was due to be completed in time for the fall session. Dr. Oden of Kinder was acting as temporary mill physician. No other information was offered about the Edna sawmill, but the timber reserve was sufficient to last until about 1920.  3


The Alexandria Lumber Company sawmill was one of the great mills of the Alexandria-Pineville vicinity, and one article of June, 1908, noted:   4

". . .The mill of Alexandria Lumber Company Ltd. is located one mile from Alexandria on the north side of Red River, and is one of the most desirable mill places in this section. The mill is a double circular mill with a capacity of 125,000 feet daily. The planer is fitted out with nine Hall and Brown planing machines and has been running double time since the first of May....

". . .The sawmill town is only a short distance from the incorporation of Pineville, which makes it more convenient for the employees in various ways. There are 75 company houses, which are neat four and five-room cottages, fitted out with water pipes from one of the best deep wells in the state. The hotel is in charge of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. McDonald, formerly of Woodworth....

As of 1908, the Alexandria sawmill had a full complement of key personnel as follows; W. D. Wadley, general manager; R. L. Boyd, superintendent; F. J. Hortig, sales manager; C. E. Alday, bookkeeper; D. W. Alday, timekeeper; Miss Nora Allen, stenographer; T. L. Owen, commissary manager; C. L. O'Neal, Alex Stokes, J. H. Rodgers, clerks; Louise Gamewell, cashier; J. H. Daniels, sawmill foreman; W. H. Goodwin, long carriage sawyer; George Allen, short carriage sawyer; T. P. Rand, mill engineer; J. H. Adams, fireman; K. C. Brooks, filer; Rich Clayton, millwright; George Hill, grader; -- Hastings, machinist; L. C. Smith, yard foreman; Fred Clements, dry kiln foreman; W. D. Armstrong, planer foreman; Jack Armstrong, assistant foreman; R. Gould, shipping clerk; C. E. Scarbrock, checker; W. T. Adams, planer engineer; J. H. Peek, woods foreman; William Clark, skidder foreman; George Shipman, saw boss; Frank Rolo, chief engineer; and Dr. S. O. Anthony, mill physician. No other information about the Pineville sawmill was reported.   5


The exact location of Orange, Louisiana has never been identified by the author, who thinks it may have been near Anacoco. As of February, 1901, Holton Lumber Company operated a yellow pine sawmill there that cut 35,000 feet daily, but a year later it suffered a fatal boiler explosion.6  An article of May, 1905, reported as follows:  7

". . .Orange, La. - Many years ago, there were a few people gathered together at this place and were insolated from the outside world, there being no railroads and but few wagon roads. The great pines covered the country, and with the exception of an occasional clearing, where a little farming was carried on, there was only the solitude of the forest. Finally, to supply the needs of the settlers, a small sawmill was erected, and later one of larger pretentions. Several years ago, the latter was destroyed by the bursting of the boiler, and several were killed. Powell Brothers and Sanders Lumber Company began the erection of the present mill on June 22, 1904, and it is just now completed. The stumpage (timber supply) consists of over 30,000 acres, and this the company owns in fee simple. Of this holding, 10,000 acres is of hardwood, white oak, red oak, post oak, maple, beech, and white and red hickory. A mill for cutting hardwood will be built in October (1905). The present mill is now ready for business and can fill any orders from 12 to 52 feet in length. Seven miles of pipe for the steam dry kiln have just arrived....

The sawmill operated a single circular mill with a daily capacity of 30,000 feet, and it owned a stumpage reserve sufficient for 25 years. The firm also owned a 12x22-inch steam engine, three 52"x14-foot boilers, and had a natural log pond. The logging equipment included four miles of rails to the log front, one locomotive, 18 log cars, and several mules and yokes of oxen. The planing mill machinery included two Hall and Brown planer- matchers, one Brown moulder, one Brown resaw, one Brown edger, one picket machine, one engine, and two 52"x14-foot boilers. There was also one standard dry kiln, with 40,000 feet daily capacity.

The Powell Brothers and Sanders sawmill at Orange also owned 62 tenant houses, a commissary with $8,000 stock of goods, a waterworks with a 20,000 gallon tank and standpipe, elevated 78 feet. At that moment, an electric dynamo was being installed, and a church was being built. Also at that moment, there were only 52 employees, paid monthly wages of $5,000, but some facilities of the mill was still new and unused. Production up to April, 1905, amounted to about 1,000,000 feet of rough lumber monthly.

Key personnel of the Powell Brothers mill included J. W. Williams, president; O. L. Lee, vice president; W. H. Powell, secretary-treasurer and superintendent; W. W. Carroll, sawmill foreman; J. H. Hopkins, woods foreman; A. H. Eddin, yard foreman; E. P. Lamburth, timber buyer; T. J. Mobley, tram road manager; P. Davis, sawyer; John Rush, filer; O. L. Crocker, sawmill engineer; E. Lee, planer engineer; T.J. Runkley, trimmer; L. Mattox, bookkeeper; Sam Williams, clerk; Henry Cain, commissary manager and stenographer; and John Reilly, locomotive engineer.

The Powell Brothers and Sanders mill planned to cater to the railroad timber and export trade.  8


Another of the large sawmills of Western Louisiana was the Perkins and Miller Lumber Company of Westlake. As of January, 1905, the executives of that company included Rudolph Krause, president; Arthur Wachsen, vice president; and W. H. Managan, secretary treasurer. An article at that time observed that:   9

". . .A matter of no little importance to the trade at large was the change which took place early in the year at the Perkins and Miller Lumber Company, whereby Messrs. Krause and Managan, president and secretary respectively, resigned. In their places were elected A. J. Perkins, president; C. B. Monday, secretary and treasurer; E. H. Green, Jr., assistant secretary-sales manager; and C. H. Collamer, assistant treasurer and bookkeeper. The operation of this plant at the present time is an exemplification of what young men can do when given the charge of a big corporation. The Perkins and Miller Lumber Company is among the largest of the sawmills here, and under the new management, has become more popular than ever.....

A list of Louisiana sawmills of September, 1906, quoted the Perkins and Miller sawmill's daily cutting capacity at 125,000 feet.   10  Another record of 1906 reported that the:   11

". . .Perkins and Miller Lumber Company, Ltd., mill is one of long standing, having been established in 1873 and incorporated in 1892, with a paid-up capital of $100,000. It has always been a splendid producer and has proven very remunerative. Located as it is on West Lake, it has an abundance of water. The logs are purchased in the river, the company reserving its fine stumpage for the future. Several of the officers take an active part in operating it. The machinery is of the best, and the employees are of the best.....

Mill statistics: stumpage reserve-12 years; dry kilns-3; capacity- 40,000 feet; saws-one circular with top saw; fire protection-3 pumps; men employed- 120; wages per month-$6,000; tenant houses-12; commissary stock-$40,000; engines-2 of 160 hp.; feet in yard-2,500,000; production in December-2,000,000; planing mill-1; equipment-3 Hoyt and Fay matchers, 2 Hoyt and Fay sizers, 1 Fay moulder, 1 picket machine, 1 turning lathe, 1 scroll saw.

Other key personnel at the lumber company plant included C. H. Callamer, bookkeeper; J. J. Walsh, order and invoice clerk; E. J. Carter, stenographer; A. G. Wachsen, commissary manager; John Goss, outside superintendent; Allen Carroll, planer foreman; Charles Curley, shipping clerk; Robert Trousdale, yard foreman; and E. N. Winslow, filer.   12

Of the four sawmills reported in the foregoing statistics, two were of large size and two were medium. Each played out a role in the early industrialization of Western Louisiana, providing sizeable payrolls which reverberated throughout the Louisiana economy, and in some instances would help bankroll the oil refining, chemical, veneer, and paper industries that replaced them. Although often one sawmill dominated a town, each tended to provide the utilities, mercantile, religious and educational, and the social and leisure time infrastructure that kept the wheels of civilization turning. The parish-by-parish sawmill history of Louisiana has never been adequately dealt with, and hopefully other Louisiana historians of the future will seek to do so.


  1. 1   "Lake Charles," Beaumont Enterprise, Jan. 15, 1905.
  2. 2   "Powell Lumber Company," Beaumont Enterprise, May 22, 1908, p. 4, c. 7.
  3. 3   Ibid.
  4. 4   "Budget from Pineville, La.," Beaumont Enterprise, June 11, 1908, p. 3, c. 6.
  5. 5   Ibid.
  6. 6   Kansas City Southern Sawmill Circular No. 52-A, Kansas City, Mo., Feb. 1, 1901.
  7. 7   "Powell Brothers and Sanders," Beaumont Enterprise, May 15, 1905.
  8. 8   Ibid.
  9. 9   "Lake Charles," Beaumont Enterprise, Jan. 15 and May 28, 1905, p. 11.
  10. 10   "Lumber Mills of Louisiana," Southern Industrial and Lumber Review (Sept. 1906), p. 29.
  11. 11   "Mills at West Lake," Beaumont Enterprise, Jan. 28, 1906, p. 17, cols. 1-3.
  12. 12   Ibid.