FROM THE ARCHIVES: Visiting lumber camps in 1875

From the Archives | Sandy Main

In the winter of 1875 the lumbering season was in full swing in Montcalm County’s white pine forests north of Greenville. The lumbering boom had been going on for at least 10 years in the area and would continue for another 15 years, although it would reach its peak in 1881.

A correspondent signing himself Oneonta visited some of the lumber camps in January 1875 and provided the following report to the Greenville Independent.

“Mr. Editor: Having a desire to see something of business done in the lumber woods, I took a trip last week and one this. Of the trip made this week I would now speak: Wednesday, p.m., found me seated in a car, on a train bound north, and, after a pleasant ride I arrived at Coral and was soon enjoying a visit with friends. Thursday, after getting through with my business, I dropped in at the large stave factory of J.C. Richards and was very much pleased with the sight to be seen there. Every thing was in motion. Many teams were busy hauling bolts to the factory and it seems to me that a long time would be required to work up the stock on hand.

“Friday morning I determined to visit the mills and camps of Mr. Ambrose Atwood, and accordingly footed it from Coral to Maple Valley, a pleasant walk of two miles, and waited for a chance to ride from there to Mr. Atwood’s, a distance of five miles east, nor had I to wait long. I was soon seated on a lumber sleigh, beside one of his teamsters, and jogging along toward camp. In going a distance of four miles we met twenty-one teams loaded with lumber from the mill, and each team hauling from 33 to 38 hundred feet. Soon we reached the mill, when I repaired at once to Mr. Atwood’s, and was soon among friends with whom I had not met but once since I taught young ideas how to shoot in Vergennes eight years ago. I had a pleasant time talking over old scenes and then we were soon seated at a table fit for a king and partaking of the generous hospitality of our host and his most estimable lady.

“After dinner Mr. Atwood produced a fragrant Havana and telling me to put on my hat and we would look around. We went to the boarding house and office, and after giving me a chance to see how business was conducted there, he sent me to the house to get an overcoat for myself and then we seated ourselves in a nice cutter, behind a spanking span of greys, and we were soon speeding away over the lake and through the woods to the merry chime of the sleigh-bells. We passed one camp where he informed me they were to put in four million feet of logs.

“Mr. Atwood has ten million feet of logs to put in this winter and eight million feet of lumber to move, and told me they were moving daily 500,000 feet and would complete the entire job inside of six days. He has over ninety teams and about two hundred men in his employ. But as I am spinning this out to, I fear, too great a length, I will close for the present and complete my story next week.”

However, something apparently prevented Oneonta from providing the Independent with the rest of the story for its next edition. It was two weeks later that the following appeared:

“Mr. Editor: I will now resume my article entitled ‘A Trip to the Lumber Camps,’ as I was unable to do so last week. I forgot to mention that in going from Mr. Atwood’s to Maple Valley, via Cowden Lake, we passed one team having on 4000 feet of lumber. We had not imagined it possible that a team could haul that amount at a single load.

“Saturday morning the 10th, we left Mr. Atwood’s on our return to Greenville. It was fearfully cold and as the wind blew a gale, and the limbs kept falling from the trees and the lofty pines rocked to and fro, we were somewhat timid; as we got farther in the woods the force of the wind seemed broken and we felt safer. We called at the camps of Chas. Blumberg and Silas Smith, and notwithstanding the extreme cold, every thing was bustle. The merry whistle of the teamsters and the constant passing of loads of logs made it an active scene.

“On our first visit we were at Hart’s, Wright’s and Slaght’s camps. To one who has never seen the immense piles of logs that are banked on Flat River during the season of busy lumbering, it is a sight worth spending time to see. Tier after tier of logs completely across the river, 8 and 9 logs deep, may be seen for a long ways. We were at one of Mr. Slaght’s banking grounds, which was under the supervision of Church & Byrune, and spent a day; and from what we saw we concluded that it was hard work and required a strong arm and good muscle. We saw one log banked last winter that scaled 2600 feet, measuring 5 feet 8 inches at the butt. We are of the opinion that the poor horses are glad when the lumbering season is over, for the immense loads they are compelled to draw must tell on them, and it seems cruel to load them so heavily.

“Many are of the opinion that a lumber camp is a rough place; but from what we have seen, and we spent three months last winter teaching in the immediate vicinity of lumber camps, we can say that we never found a better hearted class of men than lumbermen are. To be sure, where so many are employed there are some who are quite rough: but taken as a class in general, we think they are honest, kind hearted and as good as a great many who count themselves their superiors.

“In conclusion, we would say to those who have never visited a camp, if you have leisure, take a trip and we are satisfied you will be amply repaid for both time and money spent.”

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