From the community

History of Lumberjacks comes to life in Greenville Museum

A typical lumber camp crew in the late 1800s. Note the camp cook with his white hat at far left. Photo courtesy of the Moosehead Historical Society
A typical lumber camp crew in the late 1800s. Note the camp cook with his white hat at far left. Photo courtesy of the Moosehead Historical Society
Posted Aug. 06, 2012, at 10:20 a.m.

GREENVILLE— With the 22nd annual celebration of Forest Heritage Days happening this coming weekend, August 10 – 11 in Greenville, the Moosehead Historical Museum on Pritham Ave. is also gearing up for the festivities by highlighting their Lumberman’s Museum housed in the basement of the Carriage House on the grounds of the Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan house. In addition, the Woodlot Bus Tour will start at the Center for Moosehead History, the museum’s other campus located at 6 Lakeview Street in Greenville. The Bus Tour will begin at 8 a.m. and finish around 2 p.m. From 2 – 4 p.m. the Colby Woodsmen Team Demonstrations will occur outside near the Center.

The town of Greenville sprang up in large part because it was on the edge of a vast lake situated in the midst of miles and miles of magnificent forestland. Water was the main passageway for moving logs from the woods to the mills, making Moosehead Lake vital to the transport of wood. Originally surveyed in the late 1700s for huge white pine for masts and spars for the British fleet, the lumber industry shaped and defined Greenville for many, many years.

Early lumber crews would head into the woods in canoes by the mid 1800s; the star of the logging industry was the Bateaux – a 30-long graceful boat that helped the woodsmen herd the logs downstream. The centerpiece of the Lumberman’s Museum is just such a boat. It was last used by the Scott Paper Company on the Roach River log drive in the early 1960s and was donated to the museum by George and Linda Midla, who happened to own the Kokadjo General Store, situated near the Roach River and First Roach Pond. These bateaux were river workhorses and could carry as much as 1,000 pounds while only drawing about six inches of water. These boats were very heavy – about 700 pounds – but four wiry men could portage them over land from stream to stream.

The heart of the logging operation was the logging camp. These were usually low-roofed buildings erected by crews during the summer months to house the loggers over the winter. Logging was much easier during winter months when road could be created of packed snow for the horses or oxen to drag logs out of the woods and stack them near streams and rivers for their eventual journey down the waterways.

Bob Cowan, who gives fascinating talks at the Lumberman’s Museum, explained the layout of an early lumber camp to a group of fascinated visitors. “The camps usually had a very low roof,” he said. “And the dirt floor beneath was divided by a huge log cut in half, known as the Deacon’s Bench. On one side were piles of fragrant fir boughs for mattresses – in the early days, men would all pile under one large heavy blanket, still in their wet wool clothes. By morning they would be essentially “baked dry” by their body heat. There was a smoke hole for the central fire where the cook would prepare meals for the voracious crew. Cowan said the crew’s diet consisted mainly of beans. Salt pork, salt cod, pickled beets, tea, molasses biscuits and flap jacks. “It was no easy trick making biscuits and such with no milk or eggs and a good cook was worth his weight in gold.” You would think that coffee would be a staple at lumber camps but the bags of beans were heavy, had to be ground and boiled. Tea was a sensible alternative. It came in large bricks that were virtually indestructible and lasted a long time. The camp cook would dip the kettle in a nearby stream and shave bits of tea off the block, boil it down and “voila!” you had a hot beverage that kept crews of lumbermen going. According to Cowan, one lumberman remarked that the camp cook made tea “strong enough to float a horseshoe and hot enough to melt it!”.

The bateau is the centerpiece of the Lumberman’s Museum, with the various tools and accouterments required to keep a crew of loggers or river drivers going – large kettle, pickpoles, huge axes, and saws are all on display and Cowan’s lively presentation is very informative. Folks leave with a great respect for the thousands of men who labored in the woods and on the rivers and streams to bring wood to the many mills perched along the Kennebec and Penobscot. Bangor, according to many Maine historians was the first city in the nation built specifically to support the timber industry and to entertain the logging crews and river drivers. The first lumber mill was built there in 1771 on the banks of the Penobscot and by 1860 there were close to 400 mills operating in the Bangor region.

If you are visiting Greenville during the weekend of Forest Heritage Days, and plan to stay past the weekend, take a little time the following week and step back into history. Visit the Lumberman’s Museum at the Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan house on Pritham Ave. in Greenville. They are open Wed. – Fri. between 1p.m. and 4p.m. Special tours may be arranged on Saturdays. Please call 695-2909 for further information or visit mooseheadhistory.org

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