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The Lumber Industry

The American lumber industry began in Maine in 1634 and was centered there for two hundred years, but in the 1830s New York State became the early nation's lumbering leader. In 1860, Pennsylvania, with over 28 million acres of land area, most of which was densely forested, became the industry leader. From 1870 to 1890, Michigan was the leading lumbering state. But between 1870 and 1890, Pennsylvania was still among the nation's top three lumber producers, and was fourth in 1910.

Pennsylvania's forests were initially stripped for white pine, in great part for the nation's ship-building industry. Prior to 1880, the principal means of transporting felled timber was by rafting or log drives on the state's rivers and streams. For a time, Williamsport (1838-1919), on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Lycoming County, was the "lumber capital of the world," utilizing log drives down the river until 1909 to Williamsport mills.

By 1885, lumber companies were increasingly using small "logging railroads" to reach into Pennsylvania's forest lands. Portable steam mills were also developed to be constructed in the forest lands. Both developments lessened the dependence of the industry on stream-side mill sites for water power. At the same time, the Pennsylvania lumber industry was greatly revived by the quest for hemlock, particularly for the bark from hemlock trees, which was an important source of the chemical tannin, used in the leather industry.

The production of leather goods from animal hides also grew into a substantial American industry during the nineteenth century. Between 1850 and 1899, the nation's tanning industry grew from $40 million to $200 million in value, with major industry conglomerates emerging by the end of the century.

The vast hemlock forests in Pennsylvania generally were not cut in the 1860s and 1870s. With the value of hemlock recognized in later decades, logging production for hemlock, remaining pine, and other timber increased greatly in the state. Indeed, capital investment in the state's lumber industry grew from nearly $11 million in 1860 to $24 million in 1870, to $45 million by 1890, when nearly 2,000 lumber mills still peppered the state's forest lands. The number of mills had declined from 3,700 in 1870, because of larger mill operations and consolidation of land ownership by timber land speculators.

In our region Sullivan and Wyoming counties were covered by vast timber tracts supporting only small lumbering operations until the late 1880s and early 1890s when the towns of Jamison City, Lopez, Stull, and Ricketts were created by major lumbering firms to harvest the forest lands. In the more populous Luzerne County, drained by the Susquehanna River, anthracite mining became the principle industry. However, lumbering was significant at Harvey's Lake on the Hollenback Estate lands during the 1840s through 1870s, and also during the 1870s through 1880s by John P. Crellin and Albert Lewis in the White Haven and Bear Creek region, which was drained by the Lehigh River and its tributary streams.

In the 1890s, a major lumbering industry was revived at Harvey's Lake and extended along Bowman's Creek by Albert Lewis, the "lumber king of Wyoming Valley." He was also tied financially and by his first marriage to the Crellin family and the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Lewis was also associated with Adam Stull and his son Arthur L. Stull in the Bowman's Creek lumber business.

A contemporary of Albert Lewis was the remarkable Col. Robert Bruce Ricketts, after whom Ricketts Glen State Park is named. Ricketts Glen State Park annually attracts over 375,000 visitors. Few are aware that a century ago the park and its surrounding game lands were the site of a major lumbering industry with a town, named Ricketts, of 800 residents. At Lake Ganoga, adjacent to the park lands, Col. Ricketts had a summer resort served by the Ganoga Branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

A Civil War hero, Ricketts was a speculator in the timber lands of Luzerne, Sullivan, and Wyoming counties. Col. Ricketts once owned nearly 60,000 acres in the region. Much of his land was principally drained by Mehoopany Creek. Ricketts' immense tracts were generally called his "Mehoopany Lands." Ricketts was on the verge of financial disaster for two decades until the Lehigh Valley Railroad was constructed through his lands. In the early 1890s, the Trexler and Turrell Lumber Company created the town of Ricketts, a few miles north of Lake Jean, which was a "boom town" from 1890 to 1913. Today it is a ghost town without a single marker to note its existence.

Through Col. Ricketts' foresight, the precious Kitchens Creek glens and waterfalls were preserved in their natural state and are the heart of Ricketts Glen State Park. Two-thirds of the 13,050-acre state park is former Ricketts land. Ricketts also protected his "pet," the Lake Ganoga area, from lumbering and only in the present generation is development truly occurring at the private Lake Ganoga development.

Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo