The Vagabond – Log rafts on the Coosa

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By Danny Crownover

One of the more interesting phases of early river traffic on the Coosa River was the towing of logs by tugs and steamboats from the river’s lower reaches in Etowah, St. Clair and Calhoun counties.

This virgin timber yielded millions and millions of feet of lumber after passing through the sawmills at Gadsden.

The Southern Lumber Company operated a large logging camp in the vicinity of Greensport, with a short railroad penetrating into the nearby forests.

The headquarters of the camp was maintained at the Cochran home, later called Oakleigh.

For a number of years, the family of J.E. Line, who directed the mills at Gadsden, resided at Oakleigh. The place was eventually destroyed by fire.

Built and owned by a South Carolina family, the old Cochran house was put together with wooden pegs with not a single iron nail in the building, which was colonial in design.

Pine trees for miles around were cut and hauled by ox teams to the railroad, which carried the trees to the Coosa. The logs were rolled into the river from a bluff and lashed together with hickory bark and saplings. The logs were formed into long rafts that were towed to Gadsden by means of long towlines fastened to a stanchion on the rear top deck of the boat. The rafts were far enough back to escape the pull of the waves kicked up by the rear paddle wheels. A boat with a long raft in tow was an imposing sight on the river.

Steamers such as Etowah Bill, The City of Gadsden, The Joel Marable, The City of Rome, The Hill City, The Clifford B. Seay, The John J. Seay, The Sidney P. Smith, The Willie C. Wagnon, The Cherokee, The Alabama, The Sam W. Line, The Crawford, The Coosawattee, The Hercules, The Laura Moore and The Alpharetta were used.

The river pilots expertly maneuvered the boats so that the rafts could negotiate the bends in the river. The rafts were anchored at the Kittrell, Line & Winchester, Pogue, Smith, Lay, Kyle and Herzberg mills.

There were times when the logs extended far out into the river. When that occ-urred, the logs were hoisted into the mills and onto carriages by means of specially built cable cars on inclines.

W.H. Wilson, a U.S. Army veteran who came to this area from Pennsylvania with J.E. Line, was the engineer of the locomotive on the Greensport railroad. W.H. Wilson was the father of Charlie Wilson, a longtime employee of the city water system.

Several sawmills located in the interior drew on the western half of Calhoun County for their logs. One was at Peek’s Hill, which was run for many years by John Pruitt. The logs were hauled on almost impassable roads by ox teams, and the lumber was marketed the same way. Some of that section was reforested in an inexpert way and yielded a good amount of timber during World War II.

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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