Timber dominated early industry in area
Published 10:11 am Friday, November 20, 2009
As we continue with the history of our area, we are getting to how the first sawmills and lumber companies came to be the leading businesses in the area.
The first industrial center in Escambia County was established at Mason, near the present site of the home of Bruce McGowin, not far from what is now known as Dixie. At this point Thomas Mendenhall dammed the creek known as Mendenhall Creek and utilized the waterpower in the manufacture of lumber, furniture, spinning wheels and cotton cards. It was around this settlement that the leading men who engaged in lumber in Escambia County were born and reared. Mr. Mendenhall cut lumber and built boats for General Jackson at Fort Crawford so that he would be ready to carry supplies to Pensacola when the occasion should arise. However, it was necessary for General Jackson to draw upon the supplies they had provided in his campaign at Pensacola because the United States had acquired Florida from Spain without hostility.
The first sawmill operated by Mr. Mendenhall was run by waterpower. The lumber at this mill was cut by a saw known as a whip-saw. The first circular sawmill ever operated in this county was operated by Bill Burton and was located between the L & N Railroad and Murder Creek.
About the year 1880, a mill was built on Juniper Creek about seven miles northwest of Brewton by C.S. Sowell. This had a circular saw and was run by waterpower. Three years later Mr. Sowell sold this mill to the Blacksher Brothers, this firm being composed by D.W. Uriah and J.J. Blacksher. At the time they bought the mill they also began buying timber. They bought virgin longleaf pine timber from the settlers on the following terms; for each 40 acres of timber they gave three sacks of corn, three sides of bacon, a (tin) pound caddy of tobacco, one barrel of flour and 40 pounds of coffee. In some cases where the timber was extra good, an extra sack of corn and extra 10 pounds of coffee were given.
It is interesting that the commodities, which were given in exchange for 40 acres of timber, have increased not over 100%, the purchase price of the commodities being valued now between $27 and $28, whereas the price of the timber increased approximately 1500 %. The timber acquired in exchange for the commodities would cut from 10,000 to 12,000 feet per acres, and the virgin class today is worth from $10 to $12 per thousand feet, making the timber value from $100 to $125 per acre-or a value of $4,000 to $5,000 for the timber that was worth $28 forty-five years ago.
Practically all the lumber cut in this vicinity in the early days was exported, and most of that part went through Pensacola up to 1905 was carried to the port by water.
We will continue with more on the lumber industry in the area next week.