State of Lumber Industry as of October 1902 

From: The Clinton Herald; October 2, 1902, P. 6
Transcribed by a Clinton County IaGenWeb volunteer.


Number of Lumber Mills Along the Shores of the Mississippi River Rapidly Decreasing – Decline of the Rafting Business – Possibilities of the Future.

This year the attention of many has been called to the fact that there has been a rapid decrease in the number of log rafts which, from a period reaching back to the early settlement of the river valley and extending down to the present, have year after year and season after season floated down the broad expanse of the Father of Waters, one of the most picturesque sights and one most typical of the industrial development which was the first impetus toward the exploiting and cultivating of the Mississippi valley, now a most fertile and profitable district of the country.

The lumber possibilities of the northwest, and the vast facilities for transportation and distribution offered by the river and tributaries at once attracted the attention of early settlers. As fast as settlement of communities afforded, lumber mills sprang up and lumber rafting on the Mississippi rapidly assumed gigantic proportions. Twenty-five years ago a lumber raft could be seen from almost any point at almost any time, drifting with the current, or propelled by small craft and accompanied by its unique crew of northern woodsmen. Today the number of rafts passing down the river is small. The log rafting business furnishes a very fair criterion of the lumber industry along the river valley, and measuring the latter by present indications in the former the general lumber industry is shown to have diminished rapidly of late years.

There are now but few mills on the river south of Burlington. These are located at Keokuk Iowa, and Ft. Madison. For its supply of timber the Ft. Madison mill depends entirely upon the general log market and therefore is liable to be closed at any time.

There are but two mills at Muscatine, both depending for supplies upon the open log market and hence likely to shut down at any time. There are now only four mills at Rock Island and Davenport, where formerly were eight. Clinton now has but the Lamb and Joyce mills in operation.

This story of the condition of the mills applies not only to the immediate vicinity, but also to points farther north. Mills at La Crosse, Wis., at one time handled 200,000,000 feet of lumber annually and the present season is the last one there. Knapp Stout & Co. of Menominee, Wis., formerly handled 120,000,000 feet of lumber and now are entirely out of the northern pine business. There is one mill at Eau Claire, Wis., doing the business for which in earlier years eight mills were required. It is confidently predicted, moreover, that the situation of the Orchard City on the great Burlington railroad system since its close alliance with the North Pacific and the Great Northern will make it possible for Burlington wholesale dealers to continue in business indefinitely, obtaining through these carrying agents, supplies from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. There now are distributed from this market several hundred carloads of Pacific coast lumber products. This is also supplemented by large supplies of southern pine that can be shipped to Iowa points and redistributed from there.

The resources of the north timber country, located chiefly in Minnesota and Wisconsin have become exhausted. Twenty-five years ago logs were cut 30 miles south of St. Paul. Today the lumber comes from patches of timber located 300 miles north of that point. The logs have to be railed from the woods to the river tributaries, floated south on the Mississippi. But a few years ago Chicago was the distributing point for three-fourths of the lumber used in the west. Now practically no lumber is shipped from Chicago west.

The explanation of the conditions that are favorable to Clinton wholesale dealers and yet under which so many other milling interests along the river have been forced to the wall, dates back some years. At a time when there seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of timber land and the timber industry along the river valley was flourishing and approaching the zenith of its career as a profitable business enterprise there were two methods of securing supplies. One was to buy the logs on the open market. Northern contractors either leased or purchased land, cut the timber, rafted the logs down the river and sold them where they could get the best price. The other method was for the various lumber companies to purchase and own tracts of land, and handle their timber themselves from the standing tree to the finished lumber. Years ago the first method of securing supplies was by far better. There always were logs on the market. Lumber and lumber men were plentiful in the North and wholesale dealers down the river had only to pay for the logs delivered at their mills. The second method was not nearly so profitable. Stump land was not so valuable and owners of vast tracts of woodland often suffered losses such as devastating forest fires would incur. Foresighted wholesale dealers, however, appreciated the truth that the extensive wooded districts were in a few years to be swept clean, and those who were at the same time forehanded and in a position to secure large tracts of timber land at once made provision for the future. Confirmation of the success of the latter policy is only too evident t the mill owners along the river who have been compelled to depend on the open log market for supplies and who now are being forced one by one to close down their mills since logs no longer can be secured from that source.

WJ Young Riverboat Log Raft Under CNW Drawbridge Lamb & Sons Sawmill 1891  


Lamb & Young Mills WJ Young Upper Mill Rock Island  
Rock Island abt 1905