Ludington Sawmill

Velmer Smith- Beauregard Daily News - Sunday - April 17, 2005


In 1905 southern enmities toward the northern states, particularly those of ex-Confederate veterans were still quite strong. Ludington was viewed as a "Yankee” town because its founders and stockholders were from the states of Michigan and Wisconsin. The company chartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin, as Ludington, Wells, and Company arrived in the area in 1889-1890, bought up about 62,500 acres at $1.50 or more per acre, and waited another five years for the railroad to arrive.

The company came from Ludington, Michigan, a city on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, opposite Green Bay, Wisconsin. There is a Wells in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Thus the question arises whether "Ludington and Wells” were names of places rather than names of people. No person with the names of Ludington, Wells, or Van Schaick has been connected to the local mill.

About 1900, Ludington, Wells, and Van Schaick was also chartered and headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The firm began building in Ludington, Louisiana, in 1901. In 1904 it was reported that the company was sawing 150,000 feet daily. The sawmill was equipped with the first two double-cutting band saws in western Louisiana, along with a 48-inch gang saw, and two Berlin Flooring machines in its planning mill. The equipment included a 48-inch gang saw

After land was purchased, the first step in harvesting the trees was for the timber spotter to mark the company's land into tracts for cutting. The spotter would locate a government land survey section corner and, with compass and ax, walk the section, blazing the trees along the way. A spotter would take 36-inch strides so as to walk off the section corners one mile square in 440 steps, each quarter section marked as he proceeded.

The men who felled the trees worked in teams and were called "flatheads.” Using double-bit axes and cross-cut saws, they cut and prepared the trees for hauling. Each tree was notched on the side it was supposed to fall. Then two men used the cross-cut saw to drop the tree. The men naturally prided themselves on being able to drop a tree exactly where they planned.

Sawing was backbreaking. The boss wanted trees cut as close to the ground as possible. Flatheads, of course, preferred to work at a higher, more comfortable position, which left a taller stump. The men carried whiskey or soda bottles filled with kerosene or turpentine to clean pine resin off the saws that accumulated while they were sawing.

All the lumberman's tasks were dangerous. While felling trees was the most obvious hazard, flatheads had to contend with such dangers as rattlesnakes. Infection and blood poisoning from cuts and scrapes were also common. For his labor, the average worker received 75 cents to $1.50 per day.

Ludington was the only area sawmill to pay its employees twice monthly in cash, not in mill scrip. Friday was called "Good Friday,” and payday had about a $30,000 economic impact on the area. That was considered to be "big bucks” in those days.

"Nothing but the best" was the company motto. In a short time a large area of pine forest one and one-fourth miles north of DeRidder was converted to a picturesque well-built village. Every street had lights. Possibly due to the northern influence, the infrastructure far exceeded that of the other sawmills in the DeRidder hub. Sewers and water extended to every house, and the grounds were beautifully landscaped.

A fine road was built to DeRidder where the three automobiles owned by the citizens of Ludington were used to journey to Ford's Opera House where times of diversion were to be had in those days. Each 4th of July celebration was the big event of the year. Ice water was free. Entertainment included fiddling contests, speakings, sack races, fireworks, and prizes for the best decorated automobiles.

The best in facilities was provided for the sawmill town which included a school, church, post office, commissary, the Ludington Hotel, and a first-class physician's office. The park had been laid out with shade and ornamental trees. Also included were cages for wild animals to house three wolves, an owl, and a raccoon.

Useful as well as ornamental bushes such as pomegranate, persimmon, and huckleberry were planted. The pomegranate was eaten fresh or used for grenadine syrup as a flavoring for preserves and confectioneries. Useful for its astringent properties, the rind and bark were valued medicinally for several thousand years especially to expel parasites, round worm and hook worm. The fruit has long been a religious symbol as described in the Old Testament; Solomon sang of an "orchard of pomegranates.”

Of course, the huckleberry was eaten raw or used in baking much as we use the commercially grown blue berries at the present time.

The sideline of the Hotel Ludington landlord was raising hogs. Butchering time was a major activity when the butchered hog's small intestines had to be cleaned in preparation for stuffing with sausage. Nothing was wasted. Lard was used for soap making, and the hog-head was boiled. All parts of the head were ground up and made into hog head cheese. It was considered quite a delicacy unless one witnessed the cheese making process because even the ears and snout (but not the eyeballs) went into the product.

In 1904 Ludington was closed to the outside world when two cases of yellow fever were diagnosed but were probably a physician's misdiagnosis. Due to the quarantine, the guys couldn't visit the pretty girls in DeRidder, and the KCS trains dispensed with its regular stops. The quarantine lasted about a month, but no case of yellow fever ever appeared.

Failing to adjust to the warm, humid Louisiana summers and homesickness are the assumed reasons that the northern owners sold out in 1913.

Northerners had trouble understanding Southerners talk with their drawl and frequent response in the conversation with: "Isn't that the truth! or I swanny!" On the other hand, Southerners had trouble understanding the "Yankees" who frequently injected "Yah, in so!" into the conversation.

Longbell wanted the Ludington timberlands more than the Ludington mill. The firm was acquired and reorganized as Ludington Lumber Company. Immediately, Longbell transferred Ludington timberlands to its other subsidiary companies. By 1913 the new owner acquired title to about a half-million acres of timberlands between DeRidder and Lake Charles.

The remaining Louisiana mill towns were envious of the Ludington mill which rated as the first to have double-cutting band saws, paydays two weeks apart in currency instead of mill checks, painted houses, and sewers for its employees.

Ludington ceased operation in 1926. The once prosperous town just north of DeRidder ceased to exist and returned to ghost town status.