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Lumber Camp versus Saw Mill

Many, even with a passing history of Manistee, have heard of the many saw mills around Manistee Lake and the channel out to Lake Michigan. Also have heard of logging camps out in the woods.

To those who have not given it much thought the perception may be the saw mills are industrial centers of manufacturing in the city. A logging camp is just that, a temporary “camp” out in the woods – a small affair. Well the opposite is a more accurate depiction. I am one of those who had the wrong perception. But volunteering at the Museum to scan and archive the collection of photos showed otherwise.

I have now scanned hundreds of photos of Manistee saw mills, and hundreds of photos of logging camps and now able to understand a bit better.

Let’s start with saw mills: To picture a historic saw mill in Manistee, one really does not need to envision anything much different than a saw mill you might see along a rural road today. A building, maybe more like a barn or shed, with a power source, saw, and a way to move heavy large logs inside. That is it.

A typical small saw mill might cut 2X4s for a week. Then retooled, to cut planks, or 1X8 boards, adjusted again to make shingles, and so on. But the larger lumber companies might have a campus with something like a dozen different saw mills. One set up for 2X4, one set up for shingles, one for boards, and so on. These larger mills – such as R. G. Peters, Sands, Rietz, Filer, Canfield – would have an entire campus with each mill specializing in a specific product.

But really not complicated, not sophisticated like factories are today.

(It may help to also remember, in the 1870s through 1900s, wood was the “oil” of its day.

Wood was used for everything. One build homes, businesses with it, built wagons and wheels out of wood. Shingles for roofs were made of wood. People heated with wood. Also made wooden barrels to store bulk goods. The demand for wood in that era, was as great or greater than petroleum products are today.)

But lumber camps are a different story: Lumber camps are where men would go out into the woods, cut down trees, move the logs to a river (to float them to Manistee), or load them on logging trains where the train brings the logs to Manistee.

These lumber camps were entire cities. Not a simple campsite in the woods. Some primitive logging camps were simply two buildings, dorm and cookhouse/dinning hall. Photos of lumber camps I have scanned typically include most of not all of the following:

· The dormitory, where men slept and spent idle time

· Dinning hall (including kitchen, etc.)

· Outhouses (plural)

· Stables for animals (horses, oxen, cows, and more)

· Storage for animal feed --- barns (plural)

· Warehousing for food to be used for feeding the lumberjacks.

· Blacksmith shop (horse shoes, repair of axes, canthooks, chains, and more)

· Wagon, sleigh, or Overpack Big Wheels repair (fixing wheels, wagon, wagon tongue, barrels [or a separate cooper shop], etc.)

· Warehousing for parts used by the blacksmith, wagon repair, cooper shop

· Filer shack (to sharpen saws, axes, etc.)

· Company store (drygoods, snacks, clothing, and more) and office (or sometimes separate buildings)

· Then, if a rail road is used to take logs to Manistee, a whole host of infrastructure for servicing and maintaining the steam locomotive, logging railroad cars, loaders, etc.

What got me thinking about this, again, was a photo I scanned today. It was a picture of the R. G. Peters Salt & Lumber Co. headquarters in Hoxeyville, Michigan (in Wexford County east of the southeast corner of Manistee County, about 30 miles east of Manistee City). This was the company office, likely servicing several lumber camps – instead of an office in each logging camp. Building for this headquarters was substantial. Two stories, with a single story wing on the right and left. A fence enclosing the yard and some additional buildings in the yard.

Interesting to know, to realize the major investment and infrastructure was made out in the woods at many logging camps – which almost annually relocated to different places. The saw mill industry in Manistee City were basic saw mills like one sees today. Sophistication and complexity of those saw mills grew in later years as additional activities were added, such as salt pans and production of salt and salt by-products.

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