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Federal Point Families

Lumbering at Federal Point

Harvesting The Growth Of A Thousand Years

      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 and the

Wilson Cypress Co. of Palatka turned out millions of feet of the

Worlds finest 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

Civil War.

      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

countless trunks. 

      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,

which grew 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,

the 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

knees.    

    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 loggernamed Hodges established him-

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.

       Meanwhile, a camp was built on an island of higher land a

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

engineer.

       The 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

raft, when completed, was towed by the company tug to the sawmill.

        The swamps 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.

       Thus 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

or veneer.