The lumber business has been, and will continue to be a leading interest in Garrett County for years to come. Any information and reasoning on the subject ought to be interesting to practical readers. We shall endeavor in this informal paper to render something in the way of history of a business that interests so many of this and other sections of the country.
What is now Garrett County, at the time of its earliest settlements or openings, was densely and heavily timbered with all species of woods, excepting the 'Glades',~ mostly in the southwest part of the county. Beyond sixty years ago timber was supposed to have little value, except for mere domestic use; one good pine tree would be worth more now then fifty acres of pine timberland then. Mr. Aaron Wilhelm is authority for the statement, that about the close of the war he made $250 worth of shingles out of one tree.
He insists that the fact can be vouched. But there are no such trees now, at any rate in this part of the country. The pine timber in this region is, or was, found in the valleys and ridge, between the great Savage and Negro Mountains. Nearly all white pine, only here and there on high planes a few trees of the yellow species. Plenty of spruce and some hemlock. Hard wood, such as oak, sugar, hickory, ash and cherry are still abundant. It can be remarked here that white pine is indigenous to cold climates, whilst on the other hand yellow pine is mostly to be found in warm climates.
The first saw mill in Garrett County was built and owned by Philip Hare about the year 1790, on Meadow Run, two miles below the Stone House on the National road with the primitive flutter-wheel and other like appointments. Water-power, with up and down saw, cut plank boards, as they were called; and hand and foot power did the balance of the labor, all heavy and hard. Hare run this mill himself till manhood gave out. He died in 1831, very aged, suddenly without ache or pain. The writer remembers to have seen a bolting-chest many years ago, in the Crossing Mill, made out of planks sawed at the Hare Mill three feet wide, without a knot or blemish. It is believed the old Tomlinson Inn was built out of lumber made at this mill. It is worthy of remark this mill property has remained in the actual occupancy of the original proprietor and his descendents over one hundred years, and is now owned and dwelt upon by two of his grandsons- - Henry and William Newman - - now approaching their three score and ten. Though both married, and with families, they have always lived in common. No two persons were ever nearer a unit then they. This old mill was in utter ruins more then sixty years ago. A little over fifty years since John Newman, the son-in-law of the old ancestor, built a mill about one mile above the old one on the same stream. It is now also in 'desesitude'.
Jesse Tomlinson at the Little Crossings about the year 1815, in connection with a 'grist mill' previously erected built the next oldest mill in this part of the county. As it had excellent waterpower it manufactured a great deal of lumber in the times past, which was disposed of along the National Road. The next in order was a Little Thunder Grist Mill by John Durst (Lightfoot John) about the year 1831, on the headwaters of Blue Lick, in the midst of a magnificent body of pine timber. This was the first mill of any kind in that neighborhood. Since then quite a number have come and gone; such as those of John Layman, Jacob Swartengraber, Jesse W. Chaney and others. In Grantsville district quite a number of similar mills were erected between the years 1835 ~ 1855, but there are now only two or three water poser mills within the same limits. Steam poser mills have taken their places.
The first steam saw a man built mill in Garrett County in 1837 by the name of Williams from Pennsylvania, on the Red Run, two miles above the National road. He bought a splendid lot of 250 acres of pine from Daniel Durst, which was used in about three years with no profit to the proprietor. A steam saw mill was then as much of a sight as a Barnum's big show now. The next mill of the kind was that of Kreeks, between the two Savages, about 1840. In a few years the timber on the premises was cut and the mill entirely abandoned. He was a merchant in Frostburg, and went into banking ~ issuing circulating notes of small denominations, commonly called shinplasters. Considerable show and pretension, but no real success. On the north side of the pike, in the same line or valley, Joshua Johnson built a fine mill in 1840. Henry Brown was builder; it burnt, but was promptly rebuilt. Johnson then lived in Frederick, and was proprietor of about 15,000 acres of Timberland in that vicinity. The late Meshac Frost about the same time erected the Grove Mill, and his son William and Nelson Beall ran it till the adjacent timber was consumed. Then Frost moved the mill down to the pike and conducted it on his own account upon a large basis for a number of years. This place was in the Shades of death, so much noted for gloom and daring acts of villainy in the long ago past years. Mr. F. went out of business in the war times, and still survives, living in a beautiful cottage in this once hideous valley. J. H. Hoblitzell once ran a mill for a few years a mile west of the Johnson place. The late Nelson Beall and his brother Richard were in former years actively engaged in the manufacture of lumber. That excellent and useful man, the late C. M. Graham, was largely and profitably engaged in lumbering at different points in the lower part of the district. As a general thing the business was not profitable, only here and there success rewarded hard labor and drudgery. Operations in pine are considerably smaller than in recent years, but there is still sufficient timber in this part of the county for profitable business or investments for years to come. Mr. P. Dorsey and the Messrs. Johnson are now actively engaged in the business. The demand for lumber is on the growth, while the supply is shrinking. There are in the southwest part of the county vast bodies of timber, especially of the Yough and North Branch, hardly touched. Among the large owners in the former valley (for sale) are the McFerrans, of this city, (Cumberland) and Messrs. Witts of Pennsylvania and Ohio; and in the latter Mr. G. L. Wellington has recently purchased large and valuable timber tract as an investment, or sale, as circumstances may warrant. Timberland capitalist are now purchasing lands in that favored part of the county with a view of entering largely in the manufacture of lumber. The experienced men from the lumber regions of Pennsylvania, and will bring with them the most modern labor saving facilities now in use. These are the guarantees of profits in the lumber trade as now conducted. Formerly the gains were lost in the antiquated and expensive manner of drawing logs to the mills. Now at a well equipped saw mill the raw material is brought to the spot almost by science at greatly reduced cost, with no waste whatever; every part of the tree being utilized and made to pay tribute to the business.
Shingle making has always been treated as a branch of the timber business. In early times they were made of oak wood, but 60 ~ 70 years ago it was discovered that white pine was more than a substitute, and much easier to work. Since then all singles have been made of pine. In the beginning, entirely with drawing knife, but in latter years principally with the circular saw, but the knife, is still used to some extent, and its product is by far the best and most durable. Quite a number of people still make their living by shaving shingles, mostly from remnants of pine trees cut up for saw logs. Hard material for roofing, such as tin and slate, are becoming unsatisfactory, after experiments of ten or twenty years, and shingles shaved in the old way are regaining their lost popularity. There are now roofs in Garrett County forty to fifty years old in pretty food condition. What other material can stand such tests?
(from 'BROWN'S MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS' prepared and written from 1880 to 1895.
Jacob Brown: the sole Author)
(Courtesy of Carol Vivier)