Logging in Vernon Parish

In 1898 the ring of the saw was sounding out through the great piney woods. Huge virgin forests were being cut, and the lumber shipped north and west to build new cities and homes.

Logging had actually begun as early as 1880 along the Sabine River. The early logger used an axe to chop the trees in the swamps and along the creeks which emptied into the Sabine. The logs would lie in the water until the creeks or river overflowed, allowing the logs to be floated downriver to Orange, Texas. Loggers marked the logs with their own unique brand before placing them in the river so there would be no dispute about ownership when they reached the mill. During the early 1900’s the Lutcher Moore Lumber Company was one of the first companies to use the river as a means of transporting logs.

Around 1890 small mills began to operate inside Vernon Parish. Using water for power, most began as grist mills but quickly evolved to cutting lumber on a small scale. Loggers, forced to move away from streams, began using mule and ox teams to haul the logs. Though most were still only hauled to the river for floating downstream to the larger mills of southeast Texas.

With the coming of the Kansas City Southern Railway in 1897, the lumber industry boomed, and by 1920 lumbering was the main industry of the parish. Large companies came into the area, bought land for fifty cents to a dollar per acre, and began clear cutting.

During the Lumber Boom period, the traditional, slow means of transporting logs by oxen and river disappeared. Each of the larger mills had their own network of trams (railways) which covered most of the parish and almost every machine used to move and process the lumber was powered by steam. Logs were pulled to the tracks by a skidder where a loader transferred them to flatcars which were pulled by a train engine to the mill. Once there, the logs were dumped into the mil pound for a very brief storage period before being carried to the saws inside the mill.

Most lumber companies brought many of their employees with them and built their own communities, though they varied in the amenities that they provided to workers and their families. Almost every company provided housing, medical services, a commissary for groceries and other goods, churches, and recreational facilities for their workers. Many paid their workers, not in cash, but in “scrip”, a form of money that could only be used in their “company” stores.

Some of the larger sawmill companies and towns in Vernon Parish were:

  • Central Coal & Coke Company
  • W. R. Pickering Lumber Company - Pickering, Barham, Cravens
  • Nona Mills Lumber Company, Ltd. - Leesville
  • Gulf Land and Lumber Company - Fullerton
  • Vernon Parish Lumber Company - Kurthwood
  • Alexandria Lumber Company - Alco
  • White Grandin Lumber Company - Slagle
  • Anderson Post Lumber Company
  • Peavy Wilson Lumber Company - Peason

But the logs couldn’t last forever. By the late 1920’s Vernon Parish had been almost completely “cut over”. It was said that you could “stand on a stump and see Lake Charles.” Logging companies sold their property when they could – often for much less than the actual worth. Tram lines, and even the occasional engine or rail car, lay abandoned throughout the area. The companies, along with many of their workers, took what they could carry and moved on to the next job – leaving behind a drastically changed landscape.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt became President of the United States during the Great Depression, he began a period of re-vitalization – creating programs designed to give jobs to unemployed American men. One of these programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps, was created for young men and provided a job and training for them, as well as revitalization of the country’s natural resources. It is estimated that between 1933 and 1942, the CCC planted more than three billion trees across the nation. Because slash pine grew faster and was better able to tolerate droughts it was planted instead of the native long-leaf pine. Slowly, pine forests have returned to Vernon Parish.

Today, responsible lumber companies use a variety of techniques to prevent deforestation. By controlling how many trees are cut and replanting the area afterwards, they guarantee a stable environment for all. Some, like rangers at Kisatchie National Forest, are working to restore the native long-leaf pines.