Chapter XXX
The Lumber Trade of Jefferson County 

The Magnificent Forests of Timber that Have Fallen Before the Lumberman’s Ax - The Production of the Red Bank Valley - The Red Bank Navigation Company - The Mahoning Navigation Company - Statistics of Lumber Produced.

No county in the State could boast of finer bodies of timber than Jefferson county when it was first settled; but almost the first act of the white man was to lay low the grand monarchs of the forest that clothed the hills, and from that day onward the destruction has been carried on, until now but little of the magnificent timber remains. The fame of the region in this respect was soon noised abroad, but it was not until about the year 1836 or 1837 that the lumber trade was pushed with any kind of vigor. Then capitalists began to come into the county, new mills were erected, and the lumber business became an immense one, that was not allowed to decline until the supply was exhausted. Acts were passed declaring the principal streams highways, and the spring and fall freshets found them full of rafts and busy raftmen.

In 1854 the lumber trade of the Redbank Valley was estimated at over 20,000,000 feet; on the North Fork there were twenty-two saws cutting 10,000,000; on Sandy Lick and its branches, twenty saws, cutting 10,000,000; on Redbank and Little Sandy, fifteen saws, cutting 3,500,000; total estimate, 23,500,000 feet.

To this can be added at least 5,000,000 shingles, and about 1,200,000 feet linear, or square feet of timber, or about 3,000,000 cubic feet.

Before the passage of the acts creating the Redbank and Mahoning Navigation Companies, rafting, owing to the obstructions in the channel, etc., was extremely difficult and hazardous, but these companies expended large sums to remove obstructions, straighten the channels, and otherwise improve the streams. Before this was done board rafts ran out of Redbank contained from 20,000 to 25,000 feet; now they contain in many instances 50,000.

At the spring flood of 1869, seventy-four board, and three hundred and fifty timber rafts were run out of Redbank by Jefferson county lumbermen, containing over 2,500,000 feet of boards, and 600,000 feet of square timber.

In 1872 there were run out of Redbank from the waters of Sandy Lick, North Fork, Little Sandy, and Redbank 917 timber, and 570 board rafts. The timber rafts from the three former streams averaged 16,000 feet per raft, and those from Little Sandy, 1,000 feet; the board rafts ran from 25,000 to 50,000, making a total run for the year of 1,500,000 feet of square timber, and 20,000,000 feet of boards. These comprised the shipments of one hundred and fifty individuals and firms, averaging from one to one hundred rafts each.

In 1873 eight of the principal lumber firms on the North Fork, Sandy Lick, and Redbank, sent to market 428 board rafts, containing from 30,000 to 50,000 feet per raft, and over 100 timber rafts. The largest of these rafts came from the mill of A. Bell & Co., on Sandy Lick. To this should be added the product of the Mahoning and Little Toby, of which no statistics are obtainable.

But the pristine glory of Redbank has departed; the mighty monarchs of the forest that clothed the banks of it and its tributaries have been laid low. The lumber trade of Jefferson county in a few years will be a thing of the past. The pine timber, in the handling of which large fortunes were accumulated, and which was for so long the staple product of the county, will soon all becut away.

The destruction of timber in this pine region of the State has been wanton in the extreme, and the waste in the earlier years of the trade was incalculable. In many instances the choicest timber was cut ruthlessly away in order to clear the land for crops that were of little value; but there was no voice raised to stop this wholesale destruction; the ax of the woodman was heard in all directions, and no one cried, "Woodman, spare that tree."

There is perhaps in Jefferson county now standing, five-hundred millions of white pine; of hemlock there is a better showing, there yet remaining fifteen hundred millions.

The lowest price paid for timber was 2 2/3 cents per cubic foot in 1846; the highest was 27 cents per cubic foot, paid in 1863; the lowest price paid for boards was $3.50 per thousand, in 1826, and the highest was $30.00 per thousand, paid in 1864.

The Redbank Navigation Company was incorporated by an act of the Legislature May 17, 1854, by which Thomas K. Litch, Thomas Reynolds, Daniel Smith, Darius Carrier, and Patrick Kerr were appointed commissioners to carry out the provisions of said act.

The third section of the act gave the company power to clean and clear the Red Bank, Sandy Lick, and North Fork from all rocks, bars, and other obstructions; to erect dams and locks; to bracket and regulate all dams now erected; to regulate the schutes of dams; to control the waters for purposes of navigation; to levy tolls not exceeding one and one-quarter cents for each and every five miles of improved creek, per thousand feet of boards or other sawed stuff for every fifty feet, linear measure, of square or other timber. These tolls were to be collected at the mouth of Red Bank, or at such other points as was deemed necessary. This section also provided for the appointment of officers and agents to carry the provisions of the bill into effect.

Under the provisions of this act the streams were greatly improved, and during the first three years the tolls collected amounted to over three thousand dollars, the greater part of which sum was expended in improving the channels.

The company was organized August 2, 1856, by electing Thomas K. Litch, president; P. Taylor, C.H. Prescott, Michael Best, and R.J. Nicholson, directors, and Paul Darling, secretary.

The last officers, elected in 1882, were: T.K. Litch, president; S.S. Jackson, N. Carrier, jr., G.B. Carrier, and Abel Fuller, directors; of these the president, and one of the directors, Nathan Carrier, jr., have since died.

Thomas K. Litch was continued as president of the company from August 2, 1856, until August 18, 1866, when I.G. Gordon was elected, who held the office until December 27, 1873, when Mr. Litch was again elected, and remained the president until his death, in 1882.

A.L. Gordon was appointed secretary, treasurer, and collector October 27, 1866, and acted in those capacities until his death, in 1885, since which time Charles Corbet, esq., has taken his place.


"This company was incorporated first by act of the General Assembly, July 31, 1845, for the purpose of controlling, navigation on Mahoning Creek, and some stock subscribed and some payments made on it. But there is no record of any organization under this act of incorporation.

The present Mahoning Navigation Company was incorporated by act of the General Assembly approved the 10th day of August, A.D. 1858, which act empowered the company to be organized thereunder to clean and clear Mahoning Creek and its branches, and to control navigation thereon perpetually, and for purposes of revenue to carry out its purposes to assess tolls on all logs, rafts, boats or other craft run on the same, perpetually. Under this act of incorporation the present company was organized on the 11th day of July, A.D. 1863, by the election of Stacy B. Williams as president, and John Miller, John Couch, I.T. Gillespie and W.E. Bell, as managers. John Hastings, esq., was elected secretary to this board, and re-elected from year to year continuously, up to 1871. Stacy B. Williams was continued as president, with several changes in the directors, up to the election of July 9, 1870, when G.W. Zeitler was chosen president, who continued up to July 10, 1871, when Jacob Zeitler was elected president. At this meeting John Hastings, esq., resigned as secretary, .and C.M. Brewer, esq., was elected secretary, and was reelected from year to year until the present time, and is the secretary now. July 10, 1872, William E. Bell was elected president, and served in that position up to July 10, 1882, a period of ten years, when the Hon. J.U. Gillespie was elected president and served in that capacity up to July 10, 1885, when W.E. Bell was again elected president and has been re-elected from year to year since. There have been but two treasurers of this company - W.A. Dunlap, from the date of its organization up to 1883, a period of about twenty years, and Levi McGregor, since. The original capital stock of the company was $5,000, divided into shares of ten dollars each. It was essentially a popular corporation, created solely for the benefit of its founders, who were all practical lumbermen, and all the stock was taken, and has since been held, by men in some way interested in lumbering. The company has collected and expended vast sums during its history in keeping the Mahoning Creek and its branches navigable for rafts and kindred craft. This, it will be understood, was no small undertaking, when we remember that at the time the company was created, and for many years thereafter, the Mahoning and its branches meandered through an almost unbroken wilderness from its source to near its mouth, where every storm felled trees, and every freshet washed up bars and rocks and destroyed dams. The mission of this company is about ended, because the marketing of that which called it into being is about exhausted. It will go into history with many benedictions from the lumbermen, whose coadjutor it has been for so many years; and with some strictures from the tollpayer because men in all ages have objected to enforced payment and unwilling tribute."

* Prepared by C.M. Brewer, secretary.

Source:  Page(s) 400-403, History of Jefferson County by Kate M. Scott. Syracuse, N.Y., D. Mason & Co., 1888.

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