EARLY SAWMILLING AT LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA
© By W. T. Block
(click here for W. T. Block web page)
(This story is committed to Dogwood Press for publication in Frontier Tales
of the Texas-Louisiana Borderlands.)
lumber manufacturing along the shores of Lake Charles around 1835 included
pine saplings, notched for log cabins; or crudely sawed boards, cut in an
up-down motion in a whipsaw pit; or cypress shingles, made with a special
draw knife. Steam sawmilling arrived there in 1855 when Captain Daniel Goos
moved his steam sawmill from Mississippi to Goosport, where his three
upright sash saws cut 11,000 feet daily. His son-in-law, Captain George
Locke operated his steam mill on Prien Lake, and both mills shipped
4,000,000 feet of cypress lumber annually to Galveston on their schooners
Lehman, Lake Charles, Emma Thornton, and Winnebago. In 1857, Goos built the
100-foot white oak steamboat Dan, principally to tow his schooners through
Calcasieu River, Lake, and Pass when winds were calm. 1
By 1876, the
H. C. Drew Lumber Company's steam mill had also been built in Lake Charles,
and others followed in rapid succession. By February, 1901, the four steam
sawmills at Lake Charles included Bradley-Ramsey Lumber Company, which cut
100,000 feet daily; J. A. Bel Lumber Company, 60,000 feet; Drew and Powell,
30,000; and Lake City Lumber Company, 40,000 feet. 2 By September,
1906, there were seven sawmills there, namely, Long-Bell Lumber Company,
two mills, 250,000 feet; Hodge Fence and Lumber Company, 100,000 feet; J.
C. Stout, 40,000; J. A. Bel, 75,000; L. B. Menefee Lumber Company, 65,000;
and J. G. Powell Lumber Company, 60,000 feet daily, exclusive of other
mills at Westlake. 3 By 1906, the city's daily
cutting capacity was 465,000 feet.
In 1884, the
Calcasieu Lumber Company was organized and incorporated at Lake Charles,
and in 1886, ownership passed to Bradley- Ramsey Lumber Company, which for
more than twenty years furnished Lake Charles' largest payroll. For a short
time, the mill cut only cypress, but by 1890, cypress logs had become so
scarce that the mill gradually converted to long leaf pine. In 1901,
Bradley-Ramsey updated its Goosport machinery by adding a single-cutting
band saw, a large 72" circular saw, and an 18-inch gang saw, thus
increasing the Goosport mill's daily capacity to 150,000 feet. The firm
then added a second mill at Mount Hope, a quarter- mile distant, where a 72"
circular and one gang saw cut 100,000 feet daily. Both mills had access to
the Calcasieu River, had their own water systems for self use and fire
protection, and were likewise hooked up to the Lake Charles city waterworks
Goosport mill began cutting yellow pine, the owners gradually bought up a
long leaf "stumpage reserve" (uncut timber), amounting to 105,000
acres north of Lake Charles. When Bradley-Ramsey sold out in March, 1906,
the proprietors still owned 65,000 acres of uncut virgin pine timber.
Although the mills continued to receive some logs floated downriver,
Bradley-Ramsey Lumber Company also built and chartered its own tram road,
the 36-mile long Lake Charles and Leesville Railroad, which ran from Moos
Bay to Bannister, north of Longville. In February, 1906, the mills used
seven locomotives and 120 tram cars between Lake Charles and the company's
"log front" near Longville. In the 1915 railroad map of
Louisiana, a line identified as the Lake Charles and Navigation Railroad
ran northward to Deridder, and it looked suspiciously like the same line.
Bradley-Ramsey mills cut and exported more "battleship decking"
(2"x6" centermatch) than any other sawmill in the world. Other
products included 60,000 fence pickets daily, ripsaw flooring, ties and
railroad bridge and trestle timbers, and dimension lumber. The "log
boom," planing mill, dry kilns, tram, drysheds, and loading dock were
generally shared by both mills. The steam kiln was a brick, 10-room Payne
and Joubert kiln, capable of drying 140,000 feet daily. The planing mill
included seven planer-matchers and moulders, four picket machines, ripsaw,
resaw, edger, and cutoff saws. There were also log haul-ups, blowpipes and
elevators to carry away sawdust, shavings, and slabs to the two burners.
There were also six dry sheds for finished lumber and a large water tank
and standpipe, elevated 100 feet. In February, 1906, both mills employed
350 mill hands, paid total wages of $40,000 monthly: "no one company
puts more money into circulation in Lake Charles than does the Bradley-
officers included William E. Ramsey, president; C. W. Penoyer, vice
president; and Charles S. Ramsey, secretary-treasurer. Other key personnel
in February, 1906, included Andrew Caldwell, bookkeeper; Edgar Irwin,
assistant bookkeeper; Frank Shattuck, invoice clerk; Ray Morse, timekeeper;
L. C. Dees, Mount Hope sawmill foreman; James A. Gray, Goosport sawmill
foreman; A. S. LaBesse, Mount Hope planer foreman; Louis Bogart, Goosport
planer foreman; -- Holloman, Mount Hope saw filer; C. T. Martin, Goosport
band saw filer; and Perry Burr, Goosport circular saw filer. In February,
1906, the two mills cut 5,000,000 feet, or an estimated annual capacity of
54,000,000 feet when box cars were plentiful. 4
February, 1906, rumors became rampant that Bradley- Ramsey was selling out
to Long-Bell Lumber Company of Kansas City. In fact, W. E. Ramsey was
out-of-town, reportedly negotiating the sale and seeking to convince the
Bradley stockholders to sell out for the reputed sum of $4,000,000.
Long-Bell already had two wholly-owned subsidiaries, Hudson River Lumber
Company of Deridder and King-Rider Lumber Company of Bon Ami, the latter
cutting 350,000 feet (day and night shifts) daily, making it second only to
the Fullerton sawmill.
Coal and Coke Company (Neame, Carson) and W. R. Pickering Company
(Pickering, Cravens, Barham), Long-Bell was another of the Midwestern
retail lumber dealers, headquartered in Kansas City, who were seeking new
sources of raw materials after the Michigan and Wisconsin forests were
depleted. And it was only natural for them to follow the rails of Kansas
City Southern, as they were spiked to the crossties on the right-of-way
south of Shreveport. In February-March, 1906, a Long-Bell excursion train,
carrying top officials and customers, inspected all the Long- Bell sawmill
plants, Bon Ami, Deridder, and Lufkin, Texas, before proceeding to Lake
Charles to visit the propective newest member, the Bradley-Ramsey
On March 16,
1906, Long-Bell Lumber Company made the long- awaited anouncement - their
purchase of Bradley-Ramsey Lumber Company, along with its two sawmills,
105,000 acres of timberlands, the Lake Charles and Leesville Railroad, and
the Lake Charles Chemical Company for four million dollars. The transaction
completed the largest transfer of sawmill property and timberlands ever
negotiated in Southwest Louisiana prior to 1906. The purchase brought
Long-Bell's daily production of lumber at its five plants to about 800,000
feet daily. 6
immediately, Long-Bell reorganized the two Lake Charles sawmills as
Calcasieu Long Leaf Lumber Companmy, with R. A. Long as president; C. B.
Sweet, vice president; F. J. Bannister, secretary; and S. T. Woodring,
treasurer and general manager, all of them of Kansas City. As was that
firm's customary pattern, the same men who were principals of the large
Kansas City wholesale-retail division were also officers of the various
subsidiary sawmills. 7
Long-Bell also began to remodel and upgrade the Goosport sawmill by adding
a new 14" band saw, a double-circular saw, a 48" Wickes gang saw,
an Allis double edger and overhead trimmer, to increase daily cutting
capacity to 200,000 feet. Seven brick dry kilns were also added, to
increase daily capacity to 150,000 feet. Four brick and concrete dry sheds,
each size 80'x560-feet, were built with a storage capacity of 10,000,000
A new electric
light plant and water supply building was constructed. A large dynamo
furnished electricity to 1,800 incandescent lamps and 63 arc lights,
capable of lighting the mill and residential area to full brilliancy. Five
new water and fire pumps were added to supply the 6-inch water mains. A new
100'x300-foot planing mill was built, to include 13 Berlin planer- matchers
and moulders, a picket header, a band resaw, edger, ripsaw, cutoff saws,
fans and blowers. A new Corliss steam engine was installed to rotate only
the planing mill machinery. 8
key personnel included S. T. Woodring, general manager; William Peters,
superintendent; C. S. Ragland, cashier; J. D. Tennant, chief clerk; Roy Morse,
purchasing agent; A. M. Myer, bookkeeper; J. T. Graye, sawmill foreman;
Allen McKinney, planer foreman; F. A. Frere, yard foreman; Ed. Farlow, dry
kiln foreman; J. M. Soward, shipping clerk; W. A. Calhoun, Otis Pray, W. R.
Bradley, checkers; C. P. Martin, W. Peters, filers; Clarence Brown, Jesse
Thom, Frank Shielders, sawyers; Sam Lyons, master mechanic; Wm. Rich, B.
Smith, N. Purson, millwrights; Joe Stout, mill engineer; J. M. Glover,
planer engineer; and Henry Reese, supply clerk. 9
Long Leaf company quickly built up a large export trade, principally of
railroad timbers for Mexico, and the cut of the Mount Hope mill went
exclusively to fill that demand. Unlike most mills, the Calcasieu firm
operated no commissary nor a mill check system. The 350 employees were paid
in currency each Saturday, which they spent with the Lake Charles
merchants. Likewise, the company endowed no schools or churches, since the
employees and their families attended the city's public schools and
By 1908, most
of the old Bradley-Ramsey sawmill equipment had been scrapped and replaced
with new machinery. That included a new power plant, where one
26"x32-inch Wickes Corliss engine rotated the band and circular mills.
A separate 20"x24-inch Wickes engine energized the gang saw, dynamo,
and pumps. And a third engine supplied the power to the planing mill. Five
84"x18-foot Casey and Hedges boilers generated 1,500 horsepower of
steam to the engines. The Calcasieu mill was also supplied with an elevated
burner for its slab waste and an elevated water tank and standpipe for its
water system. 11
Also in 1906,
Long-Bell built its large Longville sawmill, with its 150,000 feet daily capacity.
That mill burned in 1920 and was never rebuilt; its planer was converted to
an oak flooring plant. In 1913, Long-Bell bought out the big Ludington
sawmill, along with its 65,000 acres of timberlands, and 2,000 acres of the
Ludington pine trees were transferred to the Calcasieu Long Leaf stumpage
reserve. By 1913, the six Long-Bell sawmills in Southwest Louisiana wee
cutting 1,000,000 feet daily, which leveled the company forests at an
unparalleled pace. The Lake Charles Mount Hope sawmill was one of the first
to dismantle. The Bon Ami sawmill cut out in 1925 and was dismantled. The
Ludington mill cut out in 1928. The Longville oak flooring facility was
moved to the Hudson River plant at Deridder in 1927, and Longville became a
ghost town. 12 The writer has no further
information about the Calcasieu firm's Goosport mill, but he believes that
cutover timberlands and the stifling of lumber demand in 1931 by the Great
Depression finally forced the closing of the Lake Charles plant.
the days of Columbus, the beautiful, stately cypress and long leaf forests
of Southwest Louisiana were foredoomed to destruction by the axe as soon as
the Europeans arrived. The Kansas City concerns certainly played out their
roles, leaving very little in their wake except ghost towns and a wasteland
of cutover stumps. Fortunately, the five units of the Kisatchie National
Forest survive today, along with huge acreages of large, private
wood-working concerns, who understand that reforestration is vital to the
economic future of Western Louisiana.
of Captain Daniel Goos, courtesy Mrs. J. G. Miltner; Galveston Weekly
News, 1857 clipping.
- Kansas City
Southern Sawmill Circular No. 52-A, Kansas City, Feb. 1, 1901;
"List of Louisiana Sawmills on K. C. S. and Texas & New
Orleans Railroads," Beaumont Journal, Oct. 3 & Nov. 5, 1904.
- "Lumber Mills
of Louisiana-Texas," Southern Industrial and Lumber Review
(Sept.15, 1906), p. 29; "Sawmills at Lake Charles,' Beaumont
Enterprise, Jan. 15 and May 28, 1905.
Plants of Bradley-Ramsey Lumber Co.," Beaumont Enterprise, Feb.
Enterprise, Feb. 4, 11, 18, 15, 1906.
Co. Lumber Deal," Beaumont Enterprise, March 17, 1906.
Long Leaf Lumber Co. History," Beaumont Enterprise, July 12,
- "Lake Charles
Mill at Goosport," Beaumont Enterprise, May 11, 1906, p. 6, cols.
Lumber Co. History," Beaumont Enterprise, July 12, 1907.
Long Leaf Lumber Co.," Beaumont Enterprise, Jan. 20, 1908, p. 2,
- Dr. George Stokes,
"Lumbering in Southwest Louisiana," Ph. D. dissert., LSU,
1954, various pages.