The booming lumber industry of the early 20th century and its appetite for virgin cypress trees in Louisiana are featured in this state museum in the town that was once home to the nation’s largest cypress sawmill.
There is no longer any trace of the giant sawmill in the south Louisiana town of Patterson. But in the early 20th century, the Franklin B. Williams sawmill was the largest cypress mill in the country. The operation was fed by the giant virgin cypress trees located nearby in the Louisiana Atchafalaya Basin Swamp. The mill opened in 1908 and achieved a production rate of 250,000 board feet per day. The mill closed during the Great Depression as the supply of cypress trees dwindled.
cypress trees are louisiana gold
The Louisiana Cypress Sawmill Museum in Patterson features rare film footage of lumber operations for the F.B. Williams Company. Workers cut down the giant cypress located deep in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Swamp. They stand in small wooden pirogue boats and swing axes and use saws to fell the large trees.
During the cypress lumbering industry’s heyday, the harvested trees were typically 1,000 to more than 2,000 years old. However, with nearly all of the virgin trees gone, the larger second-growth cypress trees today are less than 150 years old. “A lot of the places that we have lost that old growth cypress, we don’t expect to see it come back,” says Ashley Franklin, who researched Louisiana’s timber industry for the state museum. According to Franklin, “Cypress is a species that is quickly out-competed by other trees.”
tools of the trade
You can see the iron tongs and “chain dogs” that were used to drag the large cypress logs out of the swamps and forests to the skidder. The logs moved at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, according to Franklin. And once removed from the “claw”, the chain would zip back at a dangerously fast speed of up to 100 mph. “You can imagine that was one of the more dangerous jobs,” Franklin says, and one that had higher injury at fatality rates for workers. And those risker jobs frequently had higher pay.
TV Feature on cypress sawmill museum
The Louisiana State Cypress Sawmill Museum is located alongside the Wedell-Williams Aviation Museum on U.S. Hwy 90 at 118 Cotten Rd, Patterson, LA.