Log Drives

In March of 1916 the Brattleboro Reformer ran an article explaining that the great Connecticut River log drives that had impacted our region since 1869 were done.  For 45 years the river towns witnessed log drives that began in late March and ended in early September.  Those log drives were over.

In 1915, 500 lumbermen guided 65 million board feet of full-length tree logs from the northern reaches of the Connecticut River in New Hampshire and Canada to the Mt. Tom Sawmill just south of Northampton, Massachusetts.  It took five months for the logs to reach their destination.  

There were many economic reasons that brought about the end of the log drives.  Extensive logging had been going on along the river for 45 years. The remaining trees were getting smaller.  It took three times as many individual logs to get the same amount of board feet as was produced in 1885.  In other words, it took 15 logs to produce as many board feet of lumber as was produced by 5 logs in 1885.  

Dams along the river were also slowing the 220 mile trip.  The logs usually began their journey from the upper reaches of the Connecticut River when the ice left in late March or early April and didn’t end until the logs arrived at the Mt. Tom Sawmill in Massachusetts in September.  This disrupted other uses of the river for very long stretches of time.  

For instance, Brattleboro’s Hayes Bigelow owned many motor boats and had a boat launch at Island Park.  He took the Connecticut Valley Lumber Company to court because his motor boat touring company could not safely operate during the two months the log drive occupied most of the Connecticut River along the Brattleboro area.  Bigelow won the case and the lumber company was going to have to pay him for his lost income or shut down. 

Finally, the logs caused a great deal of damage along the river banks.  As the logs were nudged down the river by lumberjacks, many of the logs washed up on the riverbanks, damaged buildings on the shoreline and disrupted mills operating along the river.

There were too many competing interests for the waterway.  Tourist companies wanted to operate their motor boats, factories and mills wanted to use the waterpower to run their businesses, landowners wanted to protect their buildings along the shore and power companies wanted to build more dams to provide electricity.

By the spring of 1916, it was clear the large log drives of the past were over.  The Connecticut Valley Lumber Company was spending too much time in court defending itself from the various interests who did not want the river inaccessible and destructive for almost half of the year.  

According to the Annals of Brattleboro, in 1733, seventy miles north of Fort Dummer, men cut down white pine logs for the British Navy and sent them down the river to be shipped to England.

After the last great Connecticut Log Drive in 1915, cutting lumber continued but the means and manner of transporting the wood changed with the times.  The large Mt. Tom lumber mill closed in 1916 but smaller mills closer to the northern lumber supply began to spring up.  Logs were cut into 4-foot lengths and floated to local pulp mills for paper production.  Longer logs were loaded onto train cars and transported by rail to lumber mills. 

In 1916 the virtual monopoly lumber companies had on the river collapsed as competing interests were recognized by courts and the northern end of the Connecticut River was taken over by electric power companies who built ten dams above Wells River, Vermont.  In 1916 lumber made way for electricity.


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