What happened to the many sawmills that once dotted Bogalusa?

Published 12:19 am Sunday, October 6, 2013

Years ago the Great Southern sawmill was built and started in our Magic City, and the city developed from all the people who came here to work for the company.

Workers came from many different places, some experienced mechanical workers who put the machines together, and many others who just needed a job. This all worked out for a stabilizing income producer for this part of the deep South, and Bogalusa was designed, plans made, and housing, businesses, schools, streets and sidewalks were built. This lasted for many years and when the yellow pine trees began to be a thing of the past the sawmill was changed over to a paper mill, one that we still have.

Back in the pre-World War II era we gained some new sawmills. There was one big one where the car wash is now in the Food Depot parking lot. We used to go there and pick up scrap lumber pieces for the wood cook stove and the heaters we called pot-bellied heaters. It was something to go watch the process where the logs were brought into the area where the big saw cut off the sides of the log and made it into a square piece of lumber.

The man operating the saw stood on a platform that ran down the length of the log in order to cut off a piece for lumber. The operator would then come back to the starting point for another slab of lumber. It looked extremely dangerous, as the saw was right in front of the man and he moved the platform at a pretty fast speed. At the same time another man was out sharpening another blade in case the one being used became too dull.

At that time there were no power plants, and the sawmill was powered by a steam plant, which seems strange now. But it was an exciting thing for young children to watch what went on there, and to remind us all that we didn’t need a job like that.

Another sawmill was situated just past the north end of Austin Street. The mill had a big pond out beside it, and after the mill shut down some young men would go there at night and gig frogs, which were supposed to make a really good meal. Most of us, however, never even tried the frog leg dinner.

Another sawmill occupied the area that is now Caston and Caswell streets and Union Avenue (the eastern end of Union past St. John Street). A lot of lumber was stacked out there to dry. A row of lumber was placed across the pile and spacers were put on over them to separate each row of lumber from another. This became a good place to highlight for rabbits at night. Years later another sawmill was located on the highway to Varnado and brought a lot of activity out that way.

There were other factories besides the sawmills that employed people. One was a handle factory that made handles for shovels and spades and other things. It’s hard to imagine how someone came up with an idea to make handles, but it worked and helped the working public.

Another business had big tanks that were behind where Wendy’s and their neighbors are. Farmers brought corn and other farm material and it was ground up and stored in the tanks to be used later as food for the farm animals.

Most old timers remember when the tung nut industry was big business. There were a lot of fields planted with tung trees. Big trucks would bring the tung nuts to a plant that was back behind where the Employment Office is now on Avenue B.

There the nuts were processed and stored and later taken away by freight trucks, supposedly to factories where they were used to make paint. One plant was over in Picayune, Miss., and ran for a long time using tung nuts. It seems strange but people made money raising the trees.

A lot of things have come and gone in our town. We need to thank the good Lord for His guidance.