The Vagabond – Early sources of timber in Etowah County

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By Danny Crownover

In July of 1879, experienced workers arrived in Gadsden from Chattanooga, Tenn., to operate a new sawmill of the Southern Lumber Company, which was being established by S.M. Winchester and his son-in-law J.E. Line.

The owners were originally from Pennsylvania. The lumber mill was located on the Coosa River just north of the site of the Mort Glosser Amphitheater on First Street.

The Southern Lumber Company was one of the largest producers of rough and dressed lumber in Alabama and continued operations until the timber in this area was exhausted. The company’s product was sold all over the country where pine lumber was in demand.

The Southern Lumber Company maintained a commissary in the old theatre located on the south side of the 300 block off Broad Street. The store was eventually sold to Martin & Phillips, who moved it directly across the street when the brick building that once housed the Duncan store.

In common with other sawmills as well as the Coosa Furnace, the Southern Lumber Company issued checks, or script, to its employees on demand. These checks were accepted at face value in trade by local merchants and cashed by the company on pay days.

One of the company’s chief sources of supply was in Calhoun County in Peek’s Hill near Ohatchee. A logging camp was operated in the vicinity of what was then known as Oakleigh.

The camp’s headquarters were located in the Cochran home, a colonial white house that was put together without a single iron or steel nail. The wall and interior boards were cut and planed by hand and put together by wooden pegs.

A logging railroad brought logs in from the interior and dumped into Coosa River near the Greenport ferry, where they were tied together in rafts by means of hickory bark and pegs and saplings. The rafts were lashed together and tied up near the mill.

The rafts were pulled up into the mill and automatically dumped to the carriage that carried them through the sawing process by means of an incline railway.

Another source of timber was in the Hokes Bluff area, where the Southern Lumber Company maintained a logging camp and railroad. Logs from that section were floated down the Coosa in rafts by expert rivermen.

The Tennessee & Coosa Railroad built a spur track along Second Street to the Gadsden mill, which later served the Lay and Kittrell Mills from a short distance down the river. The spur was operated by the L&N Railroad in the 1940s.

The Southern Lumber Company owned one towboat, the Sam W. Line, named in honor of the Line’s young son. Sam W. Line was later employed by the Gadsden Hardware Company.

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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