Return to Home Page

THE PEARL OF THE PINEYS: A GLIMPSE OF DERIDDER, LOUISIANA, BETWEEN 1904 AND 1908

©  By W. T. Block      (click here for W. T. Block web page)

Deridder, Louisiana, which became the seat of the new Beauregard Parish in 1913, generally owed its existence as a thriving lumber market to the arrival of the Kansas City Southern rails in 1895. Deridder quickly took its name from an official of the Dutch-owned railroad, whose name translated into English as "the knight." By 1905, Deridder also became a rail junction when the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad built an east-west line from Kirbyville, Texas, through Deridder to Oakdale.

By February, 1901, Long-Bell Lumber Company of Kansas City had already completed the 150,000-foot King-Ryder Lumber Company sawmill at Bon Ami, two miles to the south.  1  By 1904, Long-Bell had completed the 150,000-foot Hudson River Lumber Company plant, which for two decades provided Deridder's largest payroll. Also in 1904, Ludington, Wells and Company owned a 200,000-foot sawmill and 62,000 acres of virgin pine timber at Ludington, 1 1/2 miles north of the city. By 1905, Deridder was the hub of a half-million feet of lumber cut and shipped daily.  2

Early Deridder differed from some early Louisiana mills and also from the Kirby Lumber Company mill towns of East Texas in that the Deridder sawmill hands received their pay in legal currency rather than in "tokens" or "mill checks," good only at some company store. One article of 1904 reported that: "...Tomorrow will be pay day here (Deridder) and at Ludington, one and a half miles distant. This will throw into circulation $30,000..."  3

By 1904, Deridder had already become a thriving city, even if only eight years old, of 2,500 inhabitants. Already it was shipping lumber at a rate between 2,800 and 3,000 box cars annually, as the following news article observed:  4

Deridder, Nov. 17-This is a comparatively new town and a creation of the Kansas City Southern Railroad. It is about eight years old and has reached 2,500 population. It is the center of an excellent farming country, and one of the largest wool centers in Louisiana, over 125,000 pounds being shipped out last year. As yet the boll weevil has not been particularly troublesome. So far this year, 100 bales of cotton have been marketed, and there are at least 300 bales yet to come in. Deridder will be the market for nearly 50,000 head of sheep. A large amount of ribbon cane has been raised and hundreds of barrels of molasses will be made.

The Hudson River Lumber Company has a sawmill with a capacity of 150,000 feet per day, and it has a large acreage of standing timber. This section is a good corn country and not only raises enough to supply its wants, but exports considerable. The sweet potato crop is enormous and it finds a ready sale at paying prices. There is a large acreage in fruit, peaches and pears being the principal kinds produced.

There are 625 square miles tributary to Deridder in the way of trade. Seven large general stores bear witness to that. The fire of the 18th of March last was not an unmitigated evil since fire brick buildings are now taking the places of the shacks that were. An elegant $10,000 school house with a corps of six teachers furnish every opportunity in the educational line. The Masons and Odd Fellows each have fine halls and a large membership. Religious services are held every Sunday by the Methodists and Baptists. The citizens are progressive and let no opportunity pass to further the interests of their town. The stocks of merchandise are large and well selected. No branch of commercial life necessary to the well-being of a town is wanting.

The Santa Fe is on the eve of building through here, the terminal being Kirbyville, Texas, and Alexandria, with a tap running to Leesville and south to Carson. The preliminary surveys have been made, and work in earnest has been commenced. The health of this locality is excellent, and there are some of the finest artesian wells in the country, which furnish an ample supply for all purposes. An ice plant of large capacity is one of the industries. Electric light has been put in use in part of the town, and in the near future will be in general use. There is a bank here which is a solid institution and has the confidence of the public.

The future of this town is assured and that fact is appreciated by outsiders who are coming in daily with a view to investment.... During the month of October (1904), 280 cars of lumber were shipped out. Considerable cotton came in today. The prices range from 9 to 10 cents (a lb.)... The Nelson Hotel is deservedly popular with the traveling public.

There is an iron foundry which is prepared to turn out castings of all kinds... The Deridder Foundry and Repair Co. Ltd. is incorporated for $20,000. The present plant represents $8,000, and it is well equipped for any work required here. When running full-handed, it employees ten men. J. W. Terry is president; D. L. Peyton, manager; L. Sessions, secretary; they will complete the plant soon.... For a city reported as only 8 years old, Deridder indeed had prospered mightily during it formative years.

By June, 1905, Deridder was exhibiting other indications of mechanical and cultural progress. Daily there were a few automobiles in town on the streets, and some of them brought patrons to the new opera house. A Ludington news item of that month reported that:   5

A magnificient road is being built to Deridder, one and a half miles distant, where three fine automobiles owned by the citizens of Ludington (Isaac and George Stephenson) can be used.... The fact that Bon Ami, Deridder, and Ludington are only four miles apart, and Deridder the central point, with its neat Ford's Opera House, makes it especially pleasant.

Deridder received its greatest economic impetus in 1903, when Hudson River Lumber Company built its huge sawmill there. Its officers were the same as the Long-Bell directors at other subsidiary mills, namely, R. A. Long, president; C. B. Sweet, vice president; H. E. Sweet, secretary and general manager at Deridder; and C. A. Paxson, treasurer. Other Hudson key personnel at Deridder included J. A. Ring, sawmill foreman; S. P. Gebhart, planer foreman; E. W. Gittings, salesman; C. A. Paxson, bookkeeper; A. C. Murphy, yard foreman; M. J. Cosgrove, filer; Messrs. Brown and Blankenship, sawyers; L. C. Congdon, commissary manager; Walter Taylor, shipping clerk; S. A. Clapp, woods superintendent; and Dr. F. W. Dorstiff, mill physician.

The Hudson River plant and its 125 tenant houses, most of which were neatly painted, were "brilliantly lighted" at night by two dynamos and 600 incandescent lights. The same area was served by a large company- owned waterworks and a large water tank and standpipe, elevated 55 feet. The mill had such a surplus of water that it offered to supply some for the Deridder municipal system. In 1904, the Hudson sawmill produced 34,000,000 feet of lumber, at an average of 150,000 feet each work day. In February, 1905, the plant employed 200 mill hands and loggers. The main sawmill cutting tools included a double band saw, cutting on each direction of the carriage; a single-cutting band saw, a gang saw, edgers and trimmer saws, and a cutoff saw. The planing mill operated 13 machines, including two moulders, six planer-matchers, a band resaw, a picket header, flooring machines, an edger, cutoff saws, and a ripsaw. A battery of boilers and one 400 hp. Corliss steam engine energized everything in the sawmill. A 250 hp. Corliss engine rotated everything in the planing mill and the two dynamos.

There were also five standard brick dry kilns, that steam-dried 100,000 feet of lumber daily. There were usually 9,000,000 feet of lumber on the yard, in some stage of drying, or being processed, shipped or stored. Other plant buildings included the office, dispensary, a large commissary, a community building, and a combination church and school.

In 1905, the Hudson River firm owned "a large acreage of standing timber," equal to a 15-year supply and probably about 30,000 acres. When Long-Bell bought out the Ludington plant in 1913, Hudson River Lumber Company acquired 4,875 acres of former Ludington timber at a cost of $243,750. In 1905, the Hudson River plant also owned a dammed-up log pond, 16 miles of standard gauge tram railroad into the forest, 3 locomotives, and sixty log cars. At the 'log front,' the loggers used fifty horses and mules, 8-wheel log wagons, and a Ledgerwood skidder-loader, that could handle 140,000 scaled feet of logs daily.  6

In May, 1905, another article reported that the Hudson River Lumber Company was:  7

doing phenominally well, considering all the drawbacks the continued rains have interposed. The park fronting the railroad has been beautifully laid out and will be adorned with flowering plants and shrubbery.... The yards in front of the cottages are continuous, and one sees in front of them one contiguous stretch of green extending the length of the block. Vines cover the trellises on the galleries. There is an air of neatness and cleanliness about the whole place...... Obviously, the Hudson River sawmill was doing whatever it could to beautify the city of Deridder. A second or night shift of ten hours was put into operation on May 11th to enable the owners to catch up on a large backlog of lumber orders. That was in sharp contrast to the dirth of lumber orders during the panic years of 1907-1908, when many mills resorted to a three or four-day work week in preference to shutting down.   8

The Hudson River Ice Company was another of the phenominal business ventures of Deridder, operating one of the largest ice plants in Western Louisiana in 1905, and housed in a 50'x200-feet, two-story building near the planing mill. The ice plant could make 64 tons of ice at one time in 256 cans that held 500 pounds of ice each. The ice storage vaults could hold 225 tons of ice at one time, at a controlled temperature of 20 degrees. A Monarch 75 hp. engine and a battery of boilers supplied power to the Worthington water, air and steam pumps.

The ice plant employed 25 men in its manufacturing and delivery operations. M. J. Koehler was the ice plant manager; J. M. Wright was chief engineer; and J. A. Riley and L. D. Denson were the stationary steam engineers. The Hudson River Ice Company furnished all the ice used by the Long-Bell mills at Deridder, Bon Ami, and Longville; the Central Coal and Coke Company sawmills at Carson and Neame; and the W. R. Pickering sawmills at Barham, Pickering and Cravens, in addition to smaller mills.   9

Like many Louisiana cities of 1900, Deridder did not pay much attention to July 4th at the town's beginning, celebrating it at first as simply a day off from work. Many Confederate veterans were still alive and still holding strong antipathies against the North. However, the sawmill at Ludington was a Northern-owned firm, with most of its key personnel either from Wisconsin or Michigan. So perhaps credit was due to the Ludingon firm for bringing back into style the old July 4th parades of yore.

Visitors from all outlying areas poured into Deridder on each train of July 4, 1907, to participate in festivities, which included the Business Men's Parade, a sham battle, foot and horse races, baseball games, a vaudeville show, and a dance that lasted from noon until midnight. Fred Johnson and J. H. McMahon were the parade marshals and sat on the first float. Next in line were the Deridder brass band, followed by city officials and business leaders, and then the members of a fraternal group, the Improved Order of Red Men in their bright costumes. Several beautifully-decorated floats were pulled by tandem teams of matched horses. The Ludington sawmill won first prize for its flower-decorated float, bearing the Goddess of Liberty. Members of the Deridder Board of Trade sponsored the July 4 parade for several years thereafter.  10

By 1907, Hudson River Lumber Company had removed all stumps from 200 acres of its cutover lands, one mile south of Deridder, and the mill converted the land into an experimental farm. In February, 1907, the farm planted 105 acres of Irish potatoes, 72 acres of which were destroyed one month later by torrential rains. Neverthless, the farm soon replanted, and by April 10, began harvesting the remaining 28 acres, selling its produce at $2.50 a bushel. The potatoes were also shipped to all the Long-Bell commissaries in Louisiana and to other markets. Among other crops, the farm planted twenty acres of cantelopes, eight acres of watermelons, two acres of onions, five acres of strawberries, and other crops. T. C. Granberry was superintendent of the experimental farm, and W. F. Ryder, a Long-Bell official, fathered the plan as a long-range attempt to recover and reuse the cutover lands for agriculture and other private purposes.  11

In April, 1908, Hudson River Lumber Company was still running its mills sixty hours weekly, on one 10-hours shift, despite severe stagnation in the domestic lumber market. The sawmill was surviving entirely on railroad orders for ties and timbers for domestic use and on its export market. C. B. Sweet, the Long-Bell vice president from Kansas City, was visiting Deridder in his private rail car, accompanied by a motor car with railroad wheels for short inspection trips to the "log fronts." The Hudson River ice plant was running at full capacity, having many contracts up and down the Kansas City Southern rails. One article of 1908 noted that: "...Superintendent H. E. Sweet... is a model mill superintendent. The office force are uniformly courteous to everyone. The office itself is a thing of beauty, furnished in curly yellow pine...."  12

The Long-Bell sawmills around Deridder prospered between 1910 and 1925, by which time the daily 1,000,000-foot appetite of the Long-Bell band saws had levelled the virgin long leaf forests of Beauregard and Calcasieu parishes. The World War I years saw most sawmills running on both day and night shifts to maintain their domestic and export trades, as well as cut huge orders for military constuction and for ship timbers for the shipyards. The Longville sawmill burned in 1920, but its planing mill made oak flooring until 1927, when the flooring machinery was transferred to the Deridder mill. Long-Bell closed and dismantled the Bon Ami sawmill in 1925 and the Luddingron sawmill in 1926. And the Hudson River sawmill was converted entirely to a hardwood mill.  13

By 1927, however, Deridder had no intention of allowing the passing of the long leaf forests to dismember its community. Since the area's hardwood resources had barely been touched, Long-Bell converted the Deridder plant to both hardwood dimension and flooring production, which in 1927 still provided the city's largest payroll, employing 400 men. No longer content to "place all its eggs in one basket," Deridder in 1924 created an industrial district to attract new manufacturing industries through abatement of city taxes. And by 1927, the city could boast of its pickle factory of Price-Hooker Manufacturing Company, a creamery and ice cream factory, a sweet potato curing plant, and the repair shops of Louisiana and Pacific Railroad, a Long-Bell subsidiary. At the first Beauregard Parish Fair in 1925, there were 75 varieties of local farm products exhibited.   14

One of Central Louisiana's greatest boons was the sale of huge acreages of cutover timberlands to the Federal government, which today are the five units of Kisatchie National Forest. For years, the Civilian Conservation Corps operated dozens of camps and enrolled hundreds of men, engaged in reforestration of the cutover lands, and today reforestration is widely practiced on both private and public lands. Fortunately, timber is a replaceable resource, and the public has learned the 'hard way' that what is removed from the forests must be replaced by young seedlings and other necessary conservation practices.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Kansas City Southern Railway Circular of Lumber Mills No. 52-A, Kansas City, Feb. 1, 1901; also "Bon Ami-A Model Plant," Beaumont Enterprise, Nov. 26 and Dec. 4, 1904.
  2. "Kansas City Southern Sawmills in Louisiana," Beaumont Journal, Oct. 30, 1904; Vol. 2, pp. 122- 126, Beauregard Parish Conveyances; also "Lumber Mills in Louisiana," Southern Industrial and Lumber Review (Sept., 1906), p.29.
  3. "Deridder-Another Good Town," Beaumont Enterprise, Nov. 19, 1904.
  4. Ibid.
  5. "Ludington News," Beaumont Enterprise, June 25, 1905.
  6. "News From Deridder-History of Hudson River Plant," Beaumont Enterprise, Feb. 4, 1905.
  7. "The Long-Bell at Deridder," Beaumont Enterprise, May 7, 1905, p. 13.
  8. Ibid.
  9. "Model Ice Plant at Deridder, La.," Beaumont Enterprise, July 14, 1907, p. 8, cols. 6-7.
  10. "Deridder Has Glorious Fourth," Beaumont Enterprise, July 7, 1907, p. 5, col. 1.
  11. "Experimental Farm at Deridder," Beaumont Enterprise, April 1, 1908.
  12. "With The Lumber Mills-Hudson River at Deridder," Beaumont Enterprise, April. 4, 1908, p. 3, col. 6.
  13. Dr. George Stokes, "Lumbering in Southwest Louisiana," Ph. D. dissert., LSU, 1954, pp. 107, 167, 174.
  14. "Sawmills Did Not Leave Deridder Flat on Its Back," Beaumont Enterprise, Aug. 3, 1927, p. 26-C, cols. 1-4.

Home Alamo Bon Ami Border Survey J. V. Bouquet Cal. Pass Cal. Raid
Cameron Channelization Daniel Goos DeQuincy Deridder Three Frenchmen Fullerton
Grand Chenier Hotspur Indian Jasper Jayhawkers Johnson's Bayou Lafitte
Lake Charles Leather Britches Leesville Letter Light House Longville Loring
Ludington Mansfield Merryville Murder Muskrat Oakdale Opelousas Trail
Pavell's Island Rat Hides Recollections River Boats Sam Henry Secrets Skull Island
Slave Trade SW Louisiana Toots Lute Tragedy Treasure Westlake