The lumber industry in the U.S. was concentrated in New England during the country’s early history, but it moved westward during the latter half of the 19th century as the eastern forestlands became depleted.

The lumber industry in the U.S. was concentrated in New England during the country’s early history, but it moved westward during the latter half of the 19th century as the eastern forestlands became depleted.
By the 1880s, the axe men had crossed the Mississippi River, and a huge lumber industry arose in the Ozarks, especially in south central Missouri.
Lumber companies like the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company and the Ozark Land and Lumber Company purchased land, often as cheaply as $1 an acre, and built large sawmills and lumberyards.
Railroads were constructed to serve the industry, and booming lumber towns sprang up along the railroads almost overnight. Where railroads did not exist close by, lumber was often floated downstream to railroads.  
Grandin, in southeastern Carter County, was established in the early 1880s by the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company. It was named for the company’s two principal stockholders, E.B. Grandin and George Grandin.
The town became one of the largest lumber milling centers in the country and at one time had a population of about 2,500 to 3,000 people with about 1,200 workers employed by the company, but the town declined dramatically after its lumber industry died during the Depression era.
Fremont, an unincorporated community in western Carter County, was established in 1887 when the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company granted the Current River branch of the Frisco Railroad a right-of-way across their land.
By July 3, 1888, the tracks were laid and the first train ran through the new town. Known as Peggy until 1907, Fremont thrived as a lumber town during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today the population is only about 130.
Located just a few miles from Grandin in southeastern Carter County, Hunter was established in the late 1880s by the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company and was a booming lumber milling town for many years. Hunter achieved its highest population of about 700 in 1920. Today Hunter is an unincorporated community with a population of less than 200.
The town of Ellsinore was laid out in eastern Carter County in 1888 when Charles Herrin gave the Cape Girardeau and Southwestern Railroad (also known as Houck Railroad) a right-of-way across his land, laid out a town and built a railroad depot.
John Carr opened the first store catering mainly to men building the railroad. In early 1889, William Crommer and Bob Evans began operating a sawmill at Ellsinore, buying up most of the timber in the area that had not already been purchased by the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company.
The sawmill closed in 1903, but Ellsinore survived. Today it has a population of about 450 people and is the second largest town in Carter County.
In Shannon County, Carter County’s neighbor to the west, Winona sprang up as a lumber town about 1889. Named for Winona in Longfellow’s “Hiawatha,” the town had a population over 600 in 1890. By 1920, that number had dwindled to about 350, but the population of Winona has since rebounded.
Farther west, the Christian County town of Chadwick also was a booming lumber town. A settlement called Log Town was established just east of present-day Chadwick in 1842. When a railroad came through the area in 1883 to serve the flourishing lumber industry, Log Town was abandoned, and the people and businesses moved to the new town of Chadwick on the line of the railroad.
The cutting of timber in the Ozarks, of course, was not limited just to southern Missouri. When the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad reached Leslie, Arkansas, in 1903, for example, that town was turned into a booming lumber town.
In the Oklahoma Ozarks, Kenwood in western Delaware County sprang up as a lumber town in the 1910s when the National Hardwood Company began operations in the area.
The lumber industry in the Ozarks declined dramatically in the 1920s and soon died out almost completely, after most of the good timberland had been exploited. The region was left to deal with the ill effects caused by the aggressive harvesting of the timber, such as soil erosion and loss of habitat for wildlife.
During the 1920s and 1930s efforts to restore and preserve Ozarks timberland began. For instance, the Mark Twain National Forest was created in the late 1930s.
The lumber industry has returned to the Ozarks in recent decades but in a less exploitative manner than a hundred years ago.
Today, the lumber industry in the Ozarks exists not only in the form of sawmills but also stave mills and especially wood chip mills.    

Larry Wood is a freelance writer specializing in the history of Missouri and the Ozarks. His most recent book is “A Concise Encyclopedia of the Ozarks.” Wood is a lifelong resident of southern Missouri who has published hundreds of magazine articles in publications ranging from The Ozarks Mountaineer to Wild West Magazine and 14 books, mostly about the history of Missouri and the Ozarks. Readers may contact him at larryewood@mail.com.