The sawmill era in Washington Parish - Part 2

By CECILY BATEMAN,

The McCreary Lumber Co. sawmill was built in 1911 by the McCreary brothers from Evergreen, Alabama. It was situated to the west of Washington Street on the Bogue Chitto River.

My sources include the articles of renowned historian Daunton Gibbs, particularly one published in The Era-Leader in 1984, and also the memoir of late local dentist Dr. T. C. W. Magee, my mother's first cousin, who worked at the sawmill in his youth.

In "Recollections of T.C.W. Magee, D.D. S. Tulane University Dental School 1922-1927," he gave a synopsis of the mechanics of the sawmill:

"This was my first sawmill work and it was operated by Dudley McCreary. He had a dummy line narrow gauge railroad on the west side of the Bogue Chitto River. The rail line ended at the river at the so-called 'log landing,' where cars were unloaded and the logs rolled into the water. They were floated on down to the mill site where they were stopped by a floating dam called a log boom. There men with long wooden poles with sharp steel spikes in the ends guided them to a belt-like powerful chain with spurs on it. As this chain emerged from the water at a gentle angle it would carry the log up into the mill. Next it would be rolled onto a moving platform mounted on wheels, pulled back and forth by a strong steel cable. As it passed by a huge circular saw the sawyer would give signals with his fingers showing what sized boards or timbers he wanted cut."

"Then the carriage operator would set his blocks accordingly and he and his men would 'dog' the log over for the cut and the singing saw would cut through the length of the log with a loud whine that could be heard up town. The carriage would reverse its trip and return for another slice. Mr. Arthur Roberts ferried rafts of logs down the river with a two-cylinder motor in tow boat from log landing to mill."

It was Roberts who, together with his crew, moved the logs downriver and into the sawmill pond. The logs had entered the river at a bluff on the west side of the Bogue Chitto, about a mile up river from the mill pond, with the railroad running west from the bluff  through Gumb Swamp and on to near the Tchefunctia River.

Then, there were lengthy spur lines which ran into the woods from both sides of the mainline track. Camps were set up, at the river bluff, as living quarters for railroad workers and loggers who worked in the woods. For mill employees, mill quarters were erected between the mill and the western end of Washington Street. On South Main, there was also a commissary provided for the workers. After several years, the company shuttered the commissary, selling the building which burned in another few years.

President Dudley H. McCreary, who was on the Franklinton Town Council for several terms, lived in a lovely large frame home situated on the west of Spring Street toward the western end of Jackson Street. The McCreary home also eventually burned in 1925. Fire was a problem for buildings in Franklinton in the early 20th century.

Interestingly, in 1913 the McCreary Lumber Co. tried to generate electricity for Franklinton. With a 50-horse power steam engine and a generator and steam from the mill boilers, electricity was had until spring brought the first flood, which flooded the mill. There were no lights in town for days - the end of the McCrearys' valiant attempt.

It was also in 1913 that the McCreary Lumber Co. replaced their old steam locomotive. According to Mr. Daunton, the new locomotive arrived on a flat car on the N.O.G.N. railroad. After it was unloaded on temporary track near the Pearl Street crossing, it was fired up using firewood and pine knots for fuel. It remarkably travelled the nearly three miles to the McCreary railroad using its own power. Short sections of track were transported from the rear of the engine to the front. It travelled west down Pearl to Main and south on Main to Varnado.

Crossing the Bogue Chitto River on the old timber bridge at the end of Varnado Street, which had a steel span and was finished in 1903, the engine used the Richardson Road on the western side of the river to reach the McCreary railroad where it crossed said road just past Bogue Chitto Heights. The engine's journey drew quite a crowd. And Mr. Daunton noted that it was likely the only locomotive to ever travel, using its own power, on the streets of Franklinton and roads of Washington Parish, which hadn't even been graveled then.

He also described the extension of the N.O.G.N. Babington Railroad track (spur as he called it) to the mill. As the Babington track ran west from the mainline along Mill Street to Main, it was expanded to run along the northern side of the lumber shed, which required construction of a tall timber trestle on the north of the shed.

Once out of timber, the McCreary Lumber Co. shut down operations in 1921, a dramatic blow to our town's economy. With other sawmills on the Bogue Chitto Branch closing down in the 1920s, the situation was quite bleak.

It wasn't until the Great Depression ended in the 1930s that things began to improve. Mr. Daunton noted the Franklinton census in 1930 at 963 was its lowest since 1910. But Roberts was undeterred. He stayed in the sawmill business. Having built and lived in his family home, 1072 Main Street, where his son was born, Roberts, Sr., returned to town in the 1930s and acquired a small sawmill to the west of the Bogue Chitto river which H. L. "Coot" Bateman had. Roberts transported the mill to the east of Wood Road, just south of Hwy 10, where he operated it until 1952, when he retired, closing the mill.

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