Memories of Florida ---
E. Stuart Hubbard
In the early days of Florida the harvesting of timber was
the most important industry. Small, local
sawmills were frequent
along the rivers and creeks; many railroad towns were built around
their sawmill. The Cummer Lumber Co. of Jacksonville
Wilson Cypress Co. of Palatka turned out millions
of feet of the
lumberheart pine and clear cypress. They owned tug
boats that towed rafts of logs from far and near. They owned great
tracts of timber. Their products were shipped by rail, by steamer
and by three masted schooners.
One of the joys of childhood was watching the small dot of
a smoke-crested tug with its towering masted schooner, spied way
down river, slowly grow into majestic size as they proudly plowed
their way up the river past us to shrink in the distance as they
passed from sight around the bend on their way to Palatka where the
schooner's hold would be filled with
lumber. Our greatest thrill
came when the returning schooner anchored in front of Three Oaks to
receive her deck load from a huge lighter and we could row out, with
a gift of oranges, to visit the captain and sniff the scents of the
sea and the tarred rigging. Shoals at Orange Mills prevented full
loading of schooners at Palatka.
These shoals were said to be the
saw dust from the original mills at Orange Mills, burned during the
These saw mills had used the virgin forest of the nearby
flat woods long before the Civil War.
There were specimens of the
original yellow pine in protected placesmassive trunks towering
branchless to great heights. The second growth stands had grown up
to eighteen inches, or more, in trunk diameterso thick that the
trees twinkled past each other as one rode through
the woods. Forest
fires and grazing cattle had consumed
all low bush and tree growth
so that the distant view was limited only by the blending of the
Cypress grew in the ponds which occasionally
spot the flat
woods and in the slashes which extend from the deep swampsdrying
up in dry seasons.
The lumber from such cypress trees tended to be closer grained
harder wood than that which was cut from the great trunks of the Swamp
cypress which grew in tidal waters, never suffering from lack or ex-
cessive depth of water nor from forest fires. Much of the year they
rose from a watery floor, the dense canopy of swamp trees and vines,
at levels below the majestic, spreading branches of the
giant cypress, shading out such growth as might otherwise tolerate
the water covered soil. The water level in the dry seasons never
left the mucky soil so dry as to permit burning or to stint the supply
of water for the forest growth. The root
system of the slash pines,
soft maples and the hardwood trees breathed through the bulbous
butts which swelled large at the base of their trunks. The cypress
have developed a means of their own to secure air when their roots
are submerged. In addition to the buttress-like ribs which rise
from the main roots for a way up the trunk as in
the elm, they thrust
pointed knobs up from their roots to above the high water level so
that they can always breathe through the bark of these "cypress
Thus has nature adjusted the cypress to her environment in
the tidal or spring fed swamps of the South to grow in uninterrupted
vigor for a thousand years or more.
Great areas of swamp had remained untouched by man, until
the end of the last century, protected by the very mud and water
that nourished the cypress tree. Logging
was by log cart on hard
ground or by pull boat or donkey engine which snaked the logs for a
quarter of & mile from the
edges of the swamps with steel cable and
steel cone fitted and fastened to the end of the log for glancing off
the trunks and stumps past which the cypress log was pulled.
Pine grew on or near firm ground. The log cart, with two
wheels, head high, straddled the log, heaved the butt of the log
off the ground and carried it, suspended, except for the nearly
balanced tip, to the mill to be sawed or to the water to be rafted
to a saw mill. Log carts were
pulled by one or many teams of mules
or oxen according to the size of the log and the depth of sand or mud.
With labor at seventy-five
cents to a dollar a day, the finest
heart pine and clear cypress brought the mills so little, as long as
the timber could be easily secured, that there was little incentive
to solve the problem of logging the deep swamps.
As the supply of timber
in Maine and Michigan became exhausted
their logging geniuses looked for new fields to
harvest. The demand
for cypress increased - the price, likewise.
An experienced Northern
self at Federal Point and amazed
the lumbermen by purchasing the
great swamp east of Deep Creek and Moccasin Branch and commencing
logging operations. "How," they
wondered, "could he get the great
logs out of that impenetrable swamp?"
Green cypress is so full of sap that the logs will sink in
creek or river. It is necessary to kill them, at least six months
before logging, so they can dry out and become bouyant. Axe men
waded into the swamp, often up to their knees in mud and water, to
cut a notch clear around the base of the cypress tree. The cambium
layer of bark being severed, the return flow of sap, enriched by
photosynthesis of leaves and air, ceased.
The tree died and was de-
hydrated so that the logs floated when dumped into the water.
camp was built on an island of higher land
half mile up Deep Creek. A strange pile driver was erected on steel
rails which were laid on cross ties supported by pairs of short
pilings driven into the mud. A small sseam locomotive was unloaded
from a lighter onto the track. Car wheels were built into log cars.
The railroad was pushed into the swamp as the pile driver, which
extended beyond the end of its supporting car, drove pair after pair
of pilings, and the rails were laid on the cross ties ahead of the
wheels of the piledriver.
A tall, sturdy tree
was selected alongside the track. Riggers
climbed it with spurs, cut off the top and fastened bracing guy
cables, some fifty feet or higher, to this mast. They, also, fastened
a heavy steel trolley cable
to the roast, cut a lane through the swamp
timber far into the swamp and stretched the trolley cable to another
mast which was rigged at the
end of the lane.
One quiet day, we
heard a distant thunderous crash. The
giant cypress trees had become seasoned and were being felled and
cross cut into logs. And what
logs they were six, eight, ten feet
in diameter and ten feet or more in length.
A steam donkey engine was set up at the base of the mast. A
cable was run through a trolley pulley suspended on the trolley cable.
A lane was cut through the weed trees from the main lane to the felled
tree. The cable was fastened
to the log, the signal given. The donkey
engine turned a winch, winding up the steel cable. As the slack was
taken up, the cable, extending from the trolley cable, far up in the
air, eased the end of the log off the ground, swung it in line and
snaked its bumping way up the side lane, over roots, cypress knees,
fallen logs to the main lane, then up the main lane swaying in the
air to a log ear upon which it was gently lowered by the donkey
donkey engine had its shrill whistle to signal the ground
crew its actions. The ground crew,
way off out of sight of the
engineer, used the man with the farthest reaching voice to call the
signals to give or take up slack
and to finally pull out the log.
Preacher Frank Fordam, grandson-in-law of my old mammy, Aunt Katy,
had the voice, the intelligence and the responsibility for the job.
His voice pierced the trunk muted swamp above the noise of donkey
engine, log train and other voices, clear and telling. (Frank told
my sister, who practiced operatic solos, that she and he were the
only ones whose voices could be heard all over the Point).
When the cars
of the log train had successively received their
loads of one huge or several
smaller logs it puffed its way to the
creek where the track, tipping towards the water, helped roll the logs,
with a great splash, into the stream. Men with pike poles steered
the logs into place in the long raft where they were herded and held
in position by the outside logs which were chained, end to end along
the sides and to fora a pointed bow and blunt stern of the raft. The
when completed, was towed by the company tug to the sawmill.
were filled with many fine, great trees of
other species: gum, elm,
ash, maple. These were not logged as
there was no paying demand for them.
was man able to harvest the cypress crop of a thous-
and years growth. I
do not know if the other species have been logged in the
deep swamps. But along
the shores of creek and river not a single
tree stands today that could furnish commercial logs for lumber