Threatened by railroad, leaders build own system

April 10, 2007 11:00 pm

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Crescent City business leaders were concerned for their future when freighting and packing declined after completion of the Oregon and California Railroad to Redding and Roseburg in


To counteract the possible impending change, they determined at a public meeting to organize a corporation to build a sawmill and use the timber resource to their advantage.

The proposed venture was a community effort through which members could buy certificates for cash and others could trade their labor to buy in.

The result was Crescent City Mill & Transportation. Work on the project — in the form of a steam sawmill — started right away. A railroad connected the sawmill to Crescent City Har-bor. The mill's capacity was est-imated at 32,000 board feet per day.

The mill used double circular saws, edgers, slab saws and planers, and employed 30 people whom they paid from $26 to $75 per month and board.

Called Lake Earl Mill, and located at the coastal lagoon, the venture ran into a low water problem around 1880. Company officials dammed the lake's outlet, but built gates they could use to let extra water out during the rainy season.

Company officials estimated that the dammed lagoon would hold 3.5 million board feet of timber and that the amount would keep their mill in operation for a year.

They didn't give much thought to exporting the lumber, however, until about 1869. Nor did they build a wharf. They simply unloaded freight onto a lighter, charging $3 per ton and tacking an additional $1 to the price to cover drayage.

Until the wharf was built, the mill's product was hauled to the waterfront by ox team and stacked above the high-water mark. When it was time to get it onto a lighter, workers moved it by rolling the timber over a 200-foot set of rollers.

By 1870 the plant was worth $45,000; by 1880, $75,000. In 1879 it produced 3.5 million feet of lumber and 30,000 laths worth $33,000.