Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

In the heart of Pennsylvania’s northern tier forests, between Galeton and Coudersport, in Potter County, is one of the most unusual interpretive centers that preserves the heritage of an era during which the Com­monwealth led the world in the production of lumber. Situated on one hundred and sixty acres, the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum chronicles the days when white pines and hemlock trees were the wealth of a nation. The museum recounts the fascinating stories of small family logging operations as well as lumber barons, lumberjacks, powerful steam machines, and colorful legends, against a rustic backdrop of a functional lumber mill, re-created logging camp, and exhibits. Adding to the authenticity and the public’s interest in the museum is the annual Bark Peelers’ Convention, which usually takes place near the Fourth ofJuly holiday.

Before the Industrial Revolution – long before there were canals, railroads, steel mills, and coal mines – the world discovered the rich, seemingly endless, supply of lumber in Pennsylvania’s vast forests. Before the arrival of European settlers, conservationists estimate that, of nearly twenty-nine million land acres in Pennsyl­vania, as much as ninety-five percent of that land was covered with dense forests of mostly white pine, eastern hemlock and mixed hardwoods. It is no wonder that King Charles II insisted of William Penn that the new land be named “Penn’s Woods.”

Even as late as 1940, white pines more than one hundred feet in height, forty inches in diameter at the base, and more than two hundred years old were being cut and lumbered. Picture the entire state blanketed by these magnificent trees and one begins to understand why early Pennsylvanians assumed that there were more than enough forests for an everlast­ing supply of wood.

When Pennsylvania came under the proprietorship of William Penn in 1681, most settlers thought little about the conservation of trees. Perm, however, aware that England’s forests had already been denuded by 1680, instructed colonists that “in clearing ground, care be taken to leave one acre of trees for every five acres cleared,” a suggestion largely ignored by settlers.

Native Americans had already co­existed with the forests fOJ centuries. When they set fire to underbrush or woodlands to clear land for agriculture, trap wild game or as a defense against enemies, they had little impact on decreasing forest acreage. Neither did Europeans, arriving as early as 1647, have much impact when they cleared the land for farming or used logs for dwellings, trading posts, cooking, or heat. Even forest fires and natural destructive forces did not alter the perception that the forests were an inexhaustible resource.

Entrepreneurs quickly recognized the potential wealth of the forests and the growing demand around the world for construction lumber, furniture, rifle stocks, household utensils, farm implements, ship building, and many other uses. The bark of the hemlock tree, especially rich in tanbark and its derivative tannin, sparked a separate and profitable industry in tanning leather. Until the heart of the tanning industry moved westward, Pennsylvania led the nation in production.

Potash (from the Dutch word potaschen), created from wood ashes, went into the making of soaps, fertilizers, glass, dyes, and other products. Before the discovery of coal, iron was forged in furnaces fired by wood charcoal. Often, thousands of acres of forest were set aside to extract charcoal. By 1860, more than fifty percent of the nation’s iron ore came from Pennsylvania.

The first sawmill in the Commonwealth was located in Philadelphia in 1682. Early sawmills were usually powered by water wheels or elastic poles. Elastic poles were flexible poles anchored perpendicular in the ground and pulled down and released repeatedly by manual power. The abundance of streams and rivers throughout the state helped assure that lumber mills could be found in all regions of the Commonwealth.

By the mid-nineteenth century, Williamsport had become the “lumber capital of the world.” In 1865, twenty-nine lumber mills operating in the Lycoming County seat produced an estimated three hundred million board feet of lumber, about ten percent of the production for all Middle Atlantic states. According to the Bureau of the Census, lumber production in the United States grew from three hundred million board feet in 1799 to eight billion board feet in 1859, and to more than twelve billion by 1869. By then, Pennsylvania led the nation in lumber output. In 1868, Dodge and Company, then the largest mill in the country – if not the world – alone had an annual output of twenty-four million board feet. Described as one hundred by two hundred feet, the Dodge mill complex ran two hundred saws. Two huge engines, powered by steam from ten enormous boilers, drove the saw blades. An Erie reporter wrote that the mill’s log holding pond covered twenty-three acres and the mill cut as much as two hundred seventy-five thousand feet of lumber in just twelve hours. There was no doubt that the lumber industry had become highly commercialized.

Before the hungry saw blades could be fed, the logs had to be transported to the mills. The amount of lumber or tanbark that could be harvested was limited by the mode available to transport the logs. Jn the industry’s early days, logs were hauled by oxen. While one may picture lumberjacks cutting trees on a warm summer day, logging was actually a win­ter occupation. Snow and ice facilitated the movement of supplies into the lumber camps as well as the hauling of logs out of the woods by sled. Horses replaced oxen, increasing production by adding greater speed to the movement of logs.

Moving logs down mountains, steep hills, and out from other rough terrain, was a difficult and dangerous process. Tools and methods were primitive, with much of the equipment made by the loggers after they arrived in camp, including the sleds and ox yokes. Loggers adapted old techniques, as well as new ones, to increase productivity. One method was to cut beech trees into v-shaped log slides, placing them end to end down a mountain slope or across other terrain. Beech trees were plentiful, but not in demand. These wood slides were used by timbermen and bark peelers, although some tanneries forbade the use of slides because tanbark tended to break up in the process.

After the fallen timber had its branches and bark removed, the logs could be pulled on the slides by horse, muscle, and gravity. This was extremely danger­ous. A log could easily kill a lumberjack or animal by gathering uncontrollable momentum and leaping from the slide. A vintage photograph, in the muse­um’s electronic archive collection, shows a large log that had jumped the slide, skewering a standing tree of appreciable girth. The impact split the live tree vertically, leaving the penetrating log impaled horizontally, as though shot like a giant arrow from an enormous bow.

An alternative to the log slide was a furrow dug in the earth, called a trailing slide that was typically a mile in length. Snow, tramped down by lumberjacks, or the intentional icing of roads and surfaces by sprinkling freezing water from an “icer,” or “ice box,” a large watertight box built on a sled, helped to make the movement of logs a little easier. In warmer weather, trailing slides were often greased to reduce friction.

A new era of logging began when rivers and streams became the primary method of transporting logs. The supply of timber in southern Pennsylvania disappeared before the second half of the nineteenth century, forcing most logging operations to the northern counties. Following each winter thaw, between 1851 and 1885, streams in the northern tier
counties were clogged bank to bank with logs. It took thousands of men, or “river rats” as they were called, braving the icy waters, to keep millions of board feet moving downstream. River arks housed the men and their teams of horses, food, and supplies.

Another method of transporting timber downstream was tying logs together to form rafts. Sweeps or oars were often mow1ted to guide the rafts to the sawmills where the rafts were disassembled. It took about six men to operate rafts, typically twenty-eight feet wide and one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet long. Rafting was a profitable enterprise, and wages were especially good for the pilot who manned the front oar, supervised the others, and navigated the streams. One type of raft, the spar raft, was unique to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. Spars were logs, usually of the finest white pine available, that were used for masts in sailing ships.

Hundreds of small mills operated along the Delaware River, the first waterway to witness considerable raft activity, and log rafts were floated into Philadelphia until about 1880. Rafting on the North Branch of the Susquehanna River began in 1807 and reached its peak in 1830. With the growth of Pittsburgh, the city’s rivers provided a new gateway to western United States markets for great quantities of Pennsylvania lumber. Raft activity on the Allegheny River was the busiest between 1865 and the early twentieth century.

Steam power changed everything. Once adapted, circular belt saws pow­ered by steam spread from Philadelphia to throughout Pennsylvania. The logging industry added a new dimension to the design of geared steam locomotives (locomotives with transmissions). With the railroad, loggers no longer had to wait until spring thaw. While cross­-country locomotives were built for speed and distance, these “bull engines” were built for power and rough terrain. During this era, trains reached deeper into the heart of the forests all across the state and supplied wood, bark, and wood by-products to more than six hundred sawmills, tanneries, chemical companies, paper mills, and barrel stave mills.

The first known logging train in Pennsylvania was operated by Wright and Pier Company, beginning in 1864, over a distance of sixty miles near the Clarion River in Jefferson County. Although the company’s owner had no knowledge of steam engines, he purchased a small portable boiler and an eight horsepower engine in Pittsburgh, hauled them to Wright and Pier, and assembled a locomotive on the logging site.

Two of three better known logging locomotives were built in Pennsylvania. Lumberman Charles D. Scott’s home­made locomotive was a design accepted by the Climax Manufacturing Company in Corry, Erie County. George Gilbert, a relative of Scott’s by marriage, while holding several legitimate locomotive patents, is often incorrectly identified as the inventor of the Climax Logging Locomotive. In 1891, while employed by Dunkirk Engineering Works, Charles Heisler designed an engine that would be the staple of the Heisler Locomotive Company in Erie between 1907 and 1941.

An example of the most popular type of logging locomotive used in the Commonwealth is on display at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. The prototype was built in 1880 by Ephraim Shay (1839-1916) and manufactured by the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio. Weighing as much as two hundred tons, a Shay locomotive could safely climb or descend a steep grade and haul an average of twenty-two cars of logs, containing one hundred thousand board feet of lumber!

With the mechanization of logging and the consumption of billions of board feet of lumber, the industry was doomed. Many historians agree that the end of Pennsylvania’s great logging boom occurred about 1920, although logging ceased in various regions according to when cutting had commenced. Between 1680 and 1895, sixteen million acres had been cleared for agriculture and two million acres cut for wood products. By 1920, only twenty-five thousand acres of original forest remained in Pennsylvania. Loggers simply moved on to new timber without reforesting.

As they cut westward, loggers toppled the Keystone State’s majestic trees, leaving behind a scarred and barren landscape. Many communities disappeared with the forests. Natural water protection was destroyed, and in some areas public health was threatened. “Penn’s Woods” was described by some as “Penn’s desert.” As early as 1791, the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture awarded medals to individu­als who planted locust trees, used for durable posts and wooden pegs. In 1873, Governor John F. Hartranft asked for legislation to “arrest the wanton and indiscriminate destruction of the forests of the state” (see “Old Johnny’s Vision for an Industrial Society” by Louis M. Waddell, Winter 2000). In 1885, Arbor Day was created as a day to plant trees to celebrate and safeguard forests. The father of Pennsylvania forestry, Joseph T. Rothrock, became the state’s first forestry commissioner in 1895. Leaders, among them Governor Gifford Pinchot, and Mira Dock and J. Horace McFarland, both of Harrisburg, worked diligently to educate the public in the quest to renew the forests.

The creation of the Civilian Conserva­tion Corps (CCC), in 1933, under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, launched a new era of forest conserva­tion. Thousands of otherwise unemployed men set out to help turn the corner on the destruction of natural resources, an era which is also examined at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. An authentic CCC cabin was relocated from a farm once owned by one of southern Potter County’s original settlers. Thanks to the efforts of the museum, volunteers, and private fundraising, the cabin stands as a memorial to the CCC, which ceased operations in 1942.

When one understands the signifi­cance of Pennsylvania’s northern tier forests in logging history, rural Potter County seems to be a most appropriate location for the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. Surrounded by the Susquehan­nock State Forest, the museum, administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), is committed to providing a worthwhile experience for thousands of visitors each year. Museum staff mem­bers have worked hard to meticulously recreate the early lumbering experience and to preserve and interpret objects and artifacts. Their accomplishments include the rescue, in 1964, of a Shay locomotive from a scrap yard after the engine’s years of service at the Ely-Thomas Lumber Company in Fenwick, West Virginia. Today, this giant sleeps peacefully behind the rustic wooden bay doors of the museum’s engine house. Restored to mint condition, this fine example of logging history, built in 1912, weighs seventy tons.

One of the best times of the year to visit is when the museum grounds are transformed into a scene reminiscent of past celebra­tions marking the end of the logging season – the Bark Peelers’ Convention. Although visitors are welcome during regular hours in the warm weather months, or by appointment during the winter season, only during the Bark Peelers’ Convention does the sawmill come to life, with its immense fifty-two inch saw blade. The mill’s main blade, and other smaller cutters, are operated by sublevel steam powered pulleys. A more modern boiler supplying steam power is employed at the sawmill in the interest of safety. During two days of exhibitions, about three thousand board feet of lumber are cut, but not just for show. Much of this lumber has been­ – and will be – used in construction of new buildings and structures, exhibition areas, galleries, board paths, shelves, storage areas, and interior paneling.

Other events, both educational and enjoyable for the entire family, take place during the Bark Peelers’ Convention, including some favorites of former woodsmen. Those sure of foot can become the official birling (logrolling) champions of Pennsylvania, a spirited contest in which pairs of contestants struggle to be the last to fall from a floating, spinning log into the mill’s log holding pond. Others may want to try a drier adventure on land in the greased pole competition. There are tamer competitive events during the conven­tion, including frog jumping, fiddling, and tobacco spitting contests. Equally interesting are dozens of demonstrations and crafts that combine fun with a perspective that is as comprehensive in its educational value as you will find in Pennsylvania on the subject of our logging history.

0£ course, there are other exhibits and buildings that authentically portray life in a lumber camp. Besides the sawmill, boiler house, engine house, horse barn, and log holding pond, there is a blacksmith shop. The blacksmith was an indispensable employee of any logging operation. Not only did he make sure the horses were properly shod, he was needed to manufacture many of the tools, specialized logging equipment parts, and even made minor repairs to logging locomotives. Major locomotive repairs were often accomplished in local commu­nity roundhouses. The museum’s visitors center offers an overview of the museum, books and pamphlets, interesting dioramas and exhibits, samples of actual old logging tools and equipment, and an electronic archive of thousands of rare and vintage photographs.

In addition to the Shay locomotive, the museum houses a restored Barnhart log loader. This massive, steam-powered machine, developed in 1887 by Henry Barnhart, was based on an idea by lumber baron Frank Goodyear. The Barnhart helped put an end to the back-breaking labor of moving and loading logs.

One of the museum’s more interesting attractions is the mess hall. Every object in the commodious room has been painstakingly researched, down to the plates, seating arrangement, kitchen, and a restored James Spear range and stove. Visitors can imagine the din of eighty to one hundred twenty loggers using tin cups and plates, which are typical in many logging camps. “Woodhicks,” as loggers were nicknamed, were well fed. They consumed an average of eight thousand calories a day – calories needed to tackle the rigors of hard physical labor and cold winter months. One sound not heard during meals – often finished in five minutes – was that of voices. Talking was forbidden at meals, as conversation at meals among such a diverse group of men, living and working in close quarters, often led to fights. Visitors might also have expected to see pho­tographs of lumberjacks smoking cigarettes. Not so. Pipes were permitted, but most loggers despised cigarettes, and employers refused to hire men who smoked “pimp sticks,” one of the industry’s more polite colloquialisms for ciga­rettes.

As one surveys the thousands of photographic images stored electronically at the museum, it becomes evident that the Pennsylva­nia Lumber Museum is successful in its re-creation of a mill and lumber camp. These images – many more than one hundred years old – depict the peak of the lumbering era across the Common­wealth, including those of huge mounds of cut timber, the transport streams clogged with logs, the non-stop saws, the barren and erosion-scarred forest slopes, and, of course, the faces of almost legendary lumberjacks.

To characterize lumberjacks as a fearsome bunch is an understatement. In the logging industry’s early years, there were no machines or steam power to help. It was all oxen or horses and muscle power. Only men in top physical condition could work for prolonged periods in the woods. In spite of the arrival of machines, logging remained an arduous occupation and an extremely dangerous way of life.

A long-retired lumberjack was once asked by the museum’s site administra­tor, Dolores Buchsen, why he and others accepted such dangerous work. The former woodhick explained that, in northern Pennsylvania, laborers had two choices to earn a living, work on a farm or cut timber. The decision was purely economic. Farm work in the early twentieth century paid thirty-five to sixty-five cents a day; lumberjacks earned, on average, one dollar a day. Loggers fortunate enough to locate their families in nearby communities could catch the logging train and visit them on weekends. Usually, only the wives and children of the foremen were permitted to live at the logging camps. The other men would simply stay at the camp for weeks or months and then return home to visit families.

It is no wonder that legends have sprouted from this era, including the tale of Paul Bunyan that is, even today, often a child’s first introduction to logging. Tales could fill library shelves of men who feared no one, coming from all over the world, and more colorful than the stories that were told around the warm bunkhouse stove after supper. Although possessing a vigorous work ethic and considerate of “respectable” women, the men were not beyond a celebratory spree after the logs had been plied down the river to the mills. Logging towns and “pig’s ears,” the name given to taverns, could be rough places to visit. Fights were common, and often considered a form of entertainment.

Logging continues in Pennsylvania, but today, even with the introduction of portable electric and fuel powered equipment that make it easier to work in rough terrain, the industry has come full circle. During logging’s early history, lumber primarily came from water powered, family-owned mills. Today, typical logging operations and mills in Pennsylvania are again mainly small family-owned concerns. State and federal laws, volunteer efforts, public education, and even some local ordinances, regulate the safety of loggers and carefully manage the amount of lumber that can be harvested from forests.

Thanks to the efforts of citizens, private land owners, and government, the state Bureau of Forestry estimates that about sixty percent of Pennsylva­nia’s acreage is once again covered by forests. The Commonwealth controls approximately two million acres of forest, and Pennsylvanians generally regard state forests as places of recre­ation and peaceful relaxation, rather than being a crop to be harvested. To truly appreciate the history of “Penn’s Woods,” a visit to the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum is a “must.”

The Pennsylvania Lumber Museum is open daily 9:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M., between April and November, except Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanks­giving and the Monday after Thanksgiving. From December through March, the museum is open by appoint­ment. For information, write: Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, P.O. Box 239, Galeton, PA 16922; telephone (814) 435-2652; or visit the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum website. Persons with disabilities who need special assistance or accommodation should call the museum in advance to discuss their needs.

Route 6, also known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, is perhaps the most scenic road in Pennsylvania. Primarily a two-lane road, it winds through the counties of (west to east) Crawford, Erie, Warren, McKean, Potter, Tioga, Bradford, Wyoming, Lackawanna, Wayne and Pike. Route 6 is an excellent way to tour the northern tier counties, with the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum located about midway in a cross-state journey. With nearly two hundred fifty miles of forest roads and six hundred and fifty miles of trails, Potter County offers much in the way of hiking, camping, wildlife, and photography. There are also plenty of streams for fishing, unparalleled vistas for viewing autumn foliage, and slopes for winter skiing, such as the Denton Hill Ski Area, located one mile south of the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. The Potter County Historical Society, headquartered in an 1892 Italianate-style building, with a 1983 addition, maintains a historic house museum and library. The museum tells the history of the county from 1810 to the present. The library houses an extensive collection of original photographs, newspapers (dating from 1843), and genealogical material. One of Pennsylvania’s most spectacular scenic wonders, Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon, located in neighboring Tioga County, is also a “must see” for visitors to the region.

For more information, write: Potter County Visitors Association, P.O. Box 245, Coudersport, PA 16915; telephone 1-888-768-8372; or visit the Potter County Visitors Association website.


A Logger’s Lexicon

Most industries have their own language, and early logging was no exception. One book, Lumberjack Lingo by L. G. Sorden, translates many of these terms that were unique, often humorous, and some that were the origin of expressions today.

Belly burglar robber: the camp cook, especially a poor one.

Cackleberries or Hen Fruit: eggs.

Come hell or high water: A term that originated with river log driving meaning without regard for difficulties or conse­quences.

Crummy: ridden with gray backs, better known as lice.

Dinkey: a small logging locomotive.

Fish: a person easily fooled.

Hang an ax: to fit a handle into an ax head at a proper angle so it custom fitted the owner.

Jam cracker: a riverman expert in breaking log jams.

Lower the boom: to fire a logger. Also, literally dropping a boom in a loading operation.

Norwegian Snowstorm: the shoveling of snow by hand when the snow sled road was getting too bare.

Skid road: Literally, from the road where logs were skidded. The place where loggers congregated when in town became known as skid road, which also became “skid row.”

Spud: a tool for peeling the bark off of logs.

Up today and down tomorrow: an upright saw used in a water powered sawmill.

Wind fall bucker: a man who sawed up trees blown down by the wind.

Woodhicks: one of many nicknames for lumberjacks.

Wrecking frogs: devices to get derailed locomotives and cars back on the tracks.

X-tree: in colonial days, any tree marked with an “X” was to be saved as a spar, or mast, for the English navy.


For Further Reading

Casler, Walter C., Benjamin F. G. Kline Jr., and Thomas T. Taber III. Logging Railroad Era of Lumbering in Pennsylvania. Nos. 1-13. Williamsport, Pa.: Lycoming Printing Co., Inc., 1971-1973.

DeCoster, Lester A. The Legacy of Penn’s Woods: A History of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for thee Department of Conservation and National Resources: Bureau of Forestry, 1995.

Illick, Joseph S. Joseph Trimble Rothrock: Father of Pennsylvania Forestry. Norristown, Pa.: Norristown Press, 1929.

Sarden, L. G. Lumberjack Lingo. Spring Green, Wisc.: Wisconsin House, Inc., 1969.


The author thanks Dolores Buchsen, site administrator of the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, for providing information about the museum and facts about logging history. Although a small staff, that includes Delores, Denise Bridges, records administrator, and David Crowell, chief of maintenance, part time seasonal workers and volunteers, they manage to maintain this facility, insuring that the Keystone State’s lumber history and many logging artifacts are protected from being lost forever. The Bureau of Forestry, of the Pennsylvania Department of Conserva­tion and Natural Resources, maintains a comprehensive forestry website with extensive information on most aspects of Pennsylva­nia’s state forest system, along with useful maps, mission statements, and related history.


Fred J. Lauver became the assistant editor of Pennsylvania Heritage in August 1999. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from the Pennsylvania State University, is doing ongoing genealogical research, and recently completed a book editing assignment on the history of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, written by Superior Court Judge Patrick Tamilia.