Timber! Lutcher-Moore Lumber Company 1877
Orange had once been a thriving industrial center with a population of about 600 kind souls, boasting a number of small lumber mills along the Sabine River. It had several schools, almost 200 houses, and a shipyard.
The Texas and New Orleans Railroad had just reached Orange when that “cruel” war began in the 1860’s. The war devastated the Southern economy, destroyed the new railroad connections, and annihilated any hope of recovery. Orange county lost about half of its citizens. To say the least, the “Civil War halted settlement and economic growth in Texas.”
In January 1877, during the “Bonanza Period,” two young men from Williamsport, Pa., visited Orange, that devastated town with so much potential for industry, in order to scope out the possibility of a saw mill on the Sabine River. They were pleased with what they saw.
In April of the same year, they returned and erected the Star and Crescent Mill, at the time, the largest in Texas. The enormous mill could cut 100,000 feet of lumber in 24 hours.
In that same year, they purchased about half of a million acres of prime timber land in Calcasieu and Beauregard parishes in Louisiana and began an operation that would impact Orange until the present day.
By 1880, when the railroad had recovered and again reached Orange, the mill employed 60 men year round at $3.50 for 11.5 hours per day. The first large mill in Orange was able to produce 82 million shingles and 75 million board feet of lumber every year.
Lutcher and Moore were in the right place at the right time. The railroad and the river allowed them to bring timber in from their scattered holdings and to ship lumber products out to recipients all over the world, just as demand was skyrocketing again.
In 1885, virgin cypress forests along the Mississippi River that were held by the company inspired the building of a log railroad beginning at Niblett’s Bluff, which is 16 miles Northeast of the mill location, and would extend Northeast as the Gulf, Sabine, and Red River Railroad.
From the Bluff, logs could be towed down, abandoning the necessity for crowded boons from one rise of the river to the next. This new tram road would be extended as necessity compelled it to be, as timber supply was exhausted.
According to the University of Texas at Austin, “The Bonanza Period of industrial logging would never have occurred were it not for the introduction of the railroad to the forests of East Texas in the 1880’s. Prior to that time, transporting cut timber to the mills was a slow, tedious endeavor dependent upon draft animals, good weather, and good fortune.
Initially logging was performed close to rivers, where water was used to ship the cut and seasoned logs to the mill. Staging areas were located at central areas. The logger cut the trees with an ax, using a saw to cut the tree to lengths. The trees were dragged by oxen or mule to the river bank where they were stacked awaiting high water. Once in the water the logs were joined into rafts, and floated to coastal mills.”
A newspaper article in 1888 noted that the company was “utilizing three locomotives, 175 loggers, and 80 tram cars along their 20 miles of tram road in order to dump 250,000 feet of stumpage in the Sabine River daily.”
In 1890, the tremendously successful company was officially organized and incorporated.
After 1893, the tram road and logging operations were contracted to private companies.
In 1901, Moore sold his interests in the company. Dr. E. W. Brown, the vice president of the company, and W. H. Stark, the secretary and treasurer, married Lutcher’s two daughters, Miriam and Carrie, as the well-known tale goes. As Lutcher slowly let down the burden of his productive labors, his empire was in the able hands of his sons-in-law.
In 1905, in order to avert buying up the output of other mills, Lutcher decided to buy another mill at Orange.
The mills were equal in production.
One would be called the “Upper Mill;” the other would be called the “Lower Mill.”
The “Upper Mill,” as another article in this edition elaborates, was powered by the massive marine steam engine that was removed from the CSS Josiah H. Bell after the Confederacy surrendered to Union forces in 1885.
According to Texas Geneology and History, “After 1920, logging on the Sabine River dropped off sharply, but it was the Great Depression stifling of lumber demand in 1930 that prompted Lutcher and Moore to silence the band saws and close their two large mills after 53 years of continuous lumber production in Texas.”
By this time, however, the company had interests in so many other industrial operations, that it continued to prosper that the decline was but a bump in the road.
Lutcher and his various business partners had built a timber empire with vast holdings in Texas and Louisiana and an extensive network of saw mills, railroads, warehouses, canals, dock facilities, and transport ships. Other companies that Lutcher and Moore Lumber Company would either own or control included Red Cypress Door and Sash Company,
Orange Mercantile company, the Lutcher and Moore Turpentine Company, the Yellow Pine Paper Mill Company, two railroads, an export line, and a fleet of lumber schooners.
The City of Orange would not have been the same without this key industrial player.