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Back from the Ashes

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

In just over a century, Missouri's landscape has fluctuated dramatically. Much of Missouri was once a seemingly endless verdant forest. Overharvest reduced it to a virtual wasteland. Now Missouri's forest stock has again risen. With careful management we can sustain beautiful and productive forests indefinitely.

The first settlers of Missouri relied on forests to provide them with all the essentials of frontier life - fuel, shelter and food. Later, these same forests generated wealth for sawmills. Following the Civil War, Missouri forests helped supply building lumber and railroad ties for a growing nation.

Before the late 1800s and the coming of railroads, there was no economical way to transport Ozark lumber to markets. The first railroad to serve the logging woods of southeast Missouri was brought by the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company. The company moved a locomotive to the end of the rail line at Williamsville and then hauled it in pieces by wagon to the company’s Ozarks operation in Grandin, 22 miles away.

The Grandin Mill consumed huge amounts of logs, as did other mills at Winona, Birch Tree, Greenville and West Eminence. These early operations were big business. The lumber companies laid hundreds of miles of rails for trams to pull logs back to the mills. Rafts of logs floated down rivers to railroad sidings, where they were loaded and shipped to the mills.

The mills were so big that company towns, complete with stores, hospitals and churches, sprang up around them. Temporary logging camps housed lumberjacks as they cut trees further and further from the mills.

During the time of the big mills, Missouri led the nation in lumber production. In 1907, the Yale School of Forestry sent its senior class to Missouri to study logging and railroad operations. They also studied the Grandin Mill, learning lumber manufacturing procedures and the details of running a large sawmill. The class spent four months in Shannon County, staying at a camp near the present site of Sunklands Conservation Area.

The timber cutting was relentless. Three lumber companies in Shannon County reportedly cut 1.3 billion board feet of lumber between 1888 and 1903. Missouri’s timber production peaked in 1899. By 1910, nearly all the pine had been cut, and by 1920 the boom was over.

After the boom came the bust. Lumber companies set up real estate divisions to sell their cutover land. Touted as an excellent agricultural and fruit growing region, Missouri land was sold sight-unseen

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