Lumber Museum’s Sawmill Complex Completed

Museums and Historic Sites presents news and information about the historic sites and museums of PHMC.

Work in the full-scale operating steam-powered sawmill complex at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum has been completed and the interpretive program for exhibit and operation is currently being established by the Commission staff. The sawmill exhibit thus completes another phase in the Commission’s program for development of the museum complex.

The project was funded under the Land and Water Recre­ation Act, also known as Project 500. The concept for the project, research and coordination was supplied by the professional staff of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The sawmill exhibit will typify many medium-sized mills, sawing 15,000 to 20,000 board feet of lumber daily which operated in northcentral Pennsylvania prior to the turn of the twentieth century.

Much of the background information for the operation of the mill was researched from Van Pritts Sawmill in Shaw, West Virginia, one of the few operating steam-powered sawmills remaining in the country. (This particular mill has ceased to operate because it will be in the back waters of a flood control dam being constructed in the Potomac River headwaters.)

The sawmill structure is a two-story building 40 feet wide by 100 feet long. The structure of wood frame and board siding construction is built of locally sawed hemlock with wood shingle roofing. Some of the larger timber framing members (6 x 12 x 24 feet long) were difficult to obtain because of lack of local timber in those sizes.

The sawmill building has as a support feature the previ­ously completed log pond, directly adjacent to the lead por­tion of the building. The logs to be sawed are stored and sorted in the pond in preparation for the sawing operation.

The boiler house is a separate structure housing the steam-producing equipment used to power the sawmill. This building is a high-gabled one-story structure of the same construction as the sawmill building. It is located directly adjacent to the sawmill building with piping connections from the steam source to the two steam engines in the basement area ­of the sawmill building.

The sawmill structure has two unloading platforms ex­tending from the discharged end of the building at the same level at the sawing operation. Each extends approximately 125 feet from the building and is used to offload and stack the sawed lumber in preparation for its pick-up by the desig­nated system of transport.

The logs stored in the log pond are removed from the water by a conveyor called the Jack Ladder and transported onto the log deck in preparation for sawing. The Jack Ladder is made up of a continuous 100-foot-long chain with “dogs” attached to it at twenty-five-foot intervals and run­ning in a woodway constructed to guide the logs into the mill. The attached “dogs” are used to support the logs as they are propelled up the inclined way onto the log deck.

The steam power source will be from a modern Cleaver­brooks boiler, providing eighty horsepower of steam of 125 pounds per square inch. This boiler will be located in the boiler house behind the exposed exhibit boiler system.

All of the remaining sawmill operational equipment are original items dating to the period to be depicted in the ex­hibit. The items and their descriptions include:

  1. The circular sawmill machinery made up of the car­riage and saw husk was manufactured by the Frick Company of Waynesboro prior to the turn of the century and depicts a unique period of early sawmills. The Commission pur­chased the equipment for use in this project from George Espy of Altoona who had it in operation until several years ago.
  2. The Horizontal Tubular Return (HTR) steam boilers were found in an abandoned mill located in Muncy Valley, Sullivan County, and were donated to the project by M. Leon Myers, owner. These two boilers were the most difficult to find, because the smaller boilers (approximately five feet in diameter by fourteen feet long). each developing about eighty horsepower and used in the medium-sized mills, were easily removed when the power source was changed to com­bustion engines or electric power and then discarded. In fact, these boilers were not acquired until the contract was awarded for construction. They have been installed and appear as an exhibit function only.
  3. The two other sawing functions of the mill are the Tower Edger used to edge the boards to size after passing through the saw husk and the pulldown trimmer saw, which trims the boards to proper length. Both were donated to the project by interested persons.
  4. The power source for the system of shafts and pulleys driving the multiple functions of delivery and sawing, are two steam engines located in the basement area of the saw­mill building. The large Frick Company Engine, circa 1895-1900 and designed to develop approximately 70 to 80 horse­power, drives the Jack Ladder and the Sawmill Husk and Carriage. This engine was acquired from an old mill opera­tion, known as Baumunks Lumber Company, located in Forksville, Sullivan County. The smaller engine of an un­known manufacturer and rated at approximately 40 horse­power drives the remaining functions of the sawmill opera­tions which are the Edger Saw and Trim Saw.
  5. The extensive system of belts, pulleys, shafts, bearing, belt tighteners, gear drives and the small steam engine were acquired from an old steam-powered sawmill located in Coalport, Blair County, formerly known as the Hegarty Sawmill, presently owned by John Davis. His participation in the project illustrates the cooperation of all the persons providing assistance in the project. His mill also provided the large diameter fifty-foot-high stack which exhibits the venting of gases generated in the steam boiler installation.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, under William J. Wewer, executive director, provided im­petus for the project. The architectural/engineering con­sultancy was provided by Architect and Engineers Collabor­ative of State College. Contractor for the project was Fon­tana Construction of Galeton.


Thomas H. McCarthy is chief of planning and construction for the PHMC.