Editor’s Note — The following article is a reprint from The Centennial Issue (Celebrate West Virginia Homecoming ’96), Henry Clay Ragland’s History of Logan County, The Early Years… Updated, Volume One by Samuel W. Rogers, Jr.
By John F. Ferrell
The first lumber industry in Logan county of any importance was started on Crawley Creek by Garrett and Runyon during the year 1876. These early pioneers worked under conditions which are unknown and a far cry from the present mechanized age. The retail price of lumber during this period was such that none but the best logs would bring a profit. Only poplar trees were cut, and only those which were 24 inches at the stump and 50 feet in length. Any trees which did not reach this standard were left standing for the future generation. Crosscut saws were used to fell the trees: they were then hauled by teams of oxen to the brink of Crawley Creek and rolled into the stream by manpower. From this point they drifted to the mouth of the creek where they were held by a boom until the Guyandotte River reached at least a seven- or eight-foot stage. I believe it of some importance to give an explanation as to what went into the making of a boom.
To build a boom took many hours of the hardest labor. In the beginning a poplar tree measuring from 75 to 80 feet in length was put across the creek; then logs approximately 12 inches in diameter and 15 feet long were buckled to the original log. The boom was held in place by anchoring to three elms on each side of the creek with heavy chains. Garrett and Runyon had these chains sent to the location by push boats, the chains being so heavy that it required two push boats to transport them up the Guyandotte River and six teams of oxen to stretch them for anchorage to the trees on the bank. The elm trees which were used for anchorage are still standing on Crawley Creek, bearing the marks of the heavy chains.
After the logs reached the boom they were made into rafts. It took only about thirty of these huge trees to make up a raft. When the river had reached the proper stage the rafts were released, each raft being manned by two. These two men guided the raft by use of oars. Of course, they were careful to ride in the center of the current and usually they did not think this work too hard or too dangerous. When they reached the Ohio River at Guyandotte they tied up the rafts and proceeded into the town of Guyandotte where they indulged in much to drink and in all the night life which Guyandotte had to offer. When the rafts were anchored there the good citizens of Guyandotte “anchored themselves” safely at home.
Early the next morning the raftsmen, each with not less than a half-gallon of the best whiskey, which incidentally did not cost more than one dollar, started the journey home. The way was not easy because they walked every foot of the way—walking up the hills and running down the other side in order to make better time. Evidently, the trip was something the men looked forward to because there was no difficulty in finding men for the job.
Garrett and Runyon deserve credit for their efforts in opening the lumber business in Logan county. They were the first to hire labor in this field. It might be of interest to note here that they originally brought trained men from Catlettsburg. Kentucky, and among them was one Floyd Brown. Mr. Brown was then about eighteen years of age and at this time resides in Chapmanville. West Virginia.
About five years after Garrett and Runyon left Logan county, Enoch Baker from Nova Scotia came to Crawley Creek and built the first splash dam. A splash dam was simply a matter of damming enough water so that when released the logs would be carried out. Baker left Crawley and worked many years at Hart’s Creek.
The next operation was the Yellow Poplar Lumber Company, beginning on Island Creek and Rich Creek. This company was the first to discard the raft method and apply the method of simply drifting the logs out. They built the first band mill on the Ohio River, at Coalgrove, Ohio. This company was pioneers in the matter of drifting timber out of this valley, therefore, they worked on a small scale but their idea was carried on to a tremendous scale later.
The industry grew from mountain to mountain and from creek to creek; from Justice to the mouth of the Guyandotte River, until it was the largest industry not only in Logan county, but in Southern West Virginia.
Then came Coal & Crane Company, the largest ever to operate in the timber business in Southern West Virginia. This company used the drift methods for their logs and I have seen the Guyandotte River floating thousands of logs out of this valley. In fact, many times they were so thick I have stepped from log to log to cross the river. The best part of the poplar timber in the state, and some of the best oak, was taken out by this company.
In 1898 I was an employee of Coal & Crane Company and was at the mouth of the Guyandotte River when the first drift of logs reached the boom there. The logs jammed against the boom with such force that the boom broke. This was a trying time to see all efforts, labor and money, turned loose, floating out into the Ohio River. The logs were finally stopped by placing a fleet of timber against the Guyandotte bridge. In order to give you some idea of a fleet of timber—it was four months after this before push boats could pass into the Guyandotte River.
I am not sure of the exact year the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company completed their line into Logan, but two or three years after this completion, Dr. Mana Staten and I were the first in Logan county to operate a circle mill and supply cut timber for commercial use. Our first was sold to the American Car and Foundry Company at Huntington where it was used to make coal cars. At that time a steel coal car was unheard of.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company was a great factor in the advancement of the timber business in this section, as well as other industries which would follow along the C. & O. line.
After the railroad was completed many band mills sprang up throughout the county. The first was the Peytonia Lumber Company on Big Buffalo; Coal & Crane, Omar. (This company later sold out to the Peytonia Lumber Company); Hutchinson Lumber Company, just below Gilbert; Sharpneck Lumber Company, near the Logan-Mingo line; and the Logan Planing Mill Company at the mouth of Huff Creek. I was general manager of the Logan Planing Mill at that time and in charge of the Huff Creek band mill. This was in 1921 and even at this date there was fine timber in this tract which consisted of approximately ten thousand acres. When this timber was worked out, timber business on a large scale was finished.
To my knowledge, there is only one operating timber business in Logan county at this time. The Mower Lumber Company located at Rich Creek is now operating and shipping their logs to their band mill somewhere outside the state.
Most of my life has been spent in the timber business in Logan county and many of my days now are spent remembering the thunder of the drifting logs, the buzz of the saws and the beauty of stately poplars and oaks.
Logan County Genealogical Society meetings are held on the second Monday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Logan Area Public Library at Logan. Anyone wishing to learn more about researching their ancestors is welcome to attend the meetings or follow them on Facebook at Logan County WV Genealogical Society.