Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cypress Harvesting in the South 1700-1960, Part 1

Blogger's Note:  It is of interest to Albany Woodworks as to where we source our wood from.  Over the last 37 years, Richard Woods, Owner and CEO of Albany Woodworks, has built a reputation of knowing that story.  The story of Louisiana Cypress.  This series explores the rich history of craftsmanship and the vibrant lumber industry of Louisiana, bringing the Albany Woodworks story full-circle.  Richard Woods realized what a valuable resource it could be, allowing his company  provide beautiful antique lumber without cutting down a single tree.   How the vast stands of virgin growth Louisiana Cypress began strong trade between a young Louisiana and the French-owned West Indies and grew to the top choice for the building the warehouses and factories at the heart of the Industrial Revolution on the East Coast of America.  This history is what Albany Woodworks brings to life with traditional craftsmanship from 100% reclaimed antique lumber.

(Above): Before chainsaws were invented, the logging industry in the United States & Canada was a seriously challenging occupation; there were forests full of monster trees and cutting them down was done by hand. 
 
From A history of the harvesting practice used in the cypress swamps of the southern United States, 1700-1960:

"Colonial Louisiana and other areas harbored vast reserves of one of the best species of wood in North America: the bald cypress.  Early residents of Louisiana struggled to meet the demand for the lumber.  Records show that ass early as 1699 French settlers at Biloxi were using cypress and selling it to merchants sailing for ports on the islands of Martinique, Santo Domingo, and Guadeloupe.  

(Above): Lumbermen sizing-up an old cypress tree prior to felling, circa 1911.

The market was not always strong over the 260 years it took to harvest the cypress stands.  Until the 1750s Louisiana settlers were the benefactors of a lucrative trade with the French West Indies.  That trade was put on hold as France lost control of Louisiana after the Seven Years War, also known as the French and Indian War, in 1763.  By 1779 Spain had gained control of the Florida Parishes and so controlled all of present day Louisiana.  The new Spanish subjects were not allowed trade with the French-owned West Indies.  

 (Above): Cypress logging, circa 1918.

The cypress markets were depressed, but by 1820 the sugarcane and cotton plantations and the New Orleans building boom had revitalized the domestic market.  Cypress would remain in high supply and demand until well after World War I.  The depression of the 1930s slowed the demand until World War II.  The war effort and strong economy of the fifties and sixties would see the last of the industrial cypress operations.

(Above): A view of a lumber camp in the swamps in 1888. The men in the background are standing on a raft. Note the five pirogues in the picture.

While the nature of its habitat made it seemingly impossible to ever exhaust, the vast cypress stands would eventually fall after a 260-year period that cypress was commercially logged can be divided into two periods: pre-steam power and post steam power."