September 17, 2018

The History of Reynard Mill & Lumber


“Great vines hung down from lofty trees that shaded the banks and crossed one another a hundred – a thousand – ways to prevent the boat's passage and retard its progress as if the devil himself was mixed in it." -Strange True Stories of Louisiana by George W. Cable (1890)
“By far the most agreeable hours I passed at New Orleans were those in which I explored with my children the forest near the town. It was our first walk in 'the eternal forests of the western world,' and we felt rather sublime and poetical." -Domestic Manners of the Americans by Frances M. Trollope (1832)

The ancient Cyprus forests that beard the bayous and swamps of Louisiana have enchanted generations of writers: their shadowed bowers both menacing and mystical and their ominous labyrinths grown of moss and vine. It was said that in the Widow Blanchett's final days she was known to wander the woods alone, a forlorn figure treading ancient paths, finding communion with the ancient trunks that shielded her from the sun.

The wood's days were numbered. Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States was becoming a global power, one that necessitated a powerful navy to impose its power. This navy required lumber and towards the close of the nineteenth-century supplies in the Midwest and Northeast were nearing exhaustion. It was then that the roving eye of industry fixed its gaze on the rich virgin forests of Louisiana.

The policy of deforestation was called “cut out and get out." Cyprus trees were harvested by the dozens. The waterways they had drawn from for centuries proved to be their undoing; cut logs were floated together in enormous numbers, sometimes covering entire lakes.

New infrastructure was needed to transport this veritable bounty. The railways enabled industrial access to previously untouched lands. Mills were built, and the areas surrounding them stripped of wood. When the local supplies were exhausted, the machinery was moved to a new location, and the mill's building was left to rot like an old carcass.

Reynard's Mill & Lumber endeavored to do the same. The hurricane of 1893 severely delayed its construction; however, not one year later it was up and running, carrying out the profitable work of devastating the ancient woodland. Reynard, an expert woodsman from Appalachia, was invited by Henrik Graf to bring his expertise to the table, in return for the prestige of having the mill in his name.

The mill's year of operation was a difficult one. The local fishermen proved averse to the complexities of the industrial equipment, and in the end, large numbers of workers from out of state were brought in to fell the trees and convert them to lumber. Graf even considered them to work too slowly and sought desperate experimental ways to increase their productivity. Their work would have been irrevocable, if not for the disaster that befell the human populace of the area…