Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chicago Mill and Lumber Company


When my daddy graduated with an accounting degree from Mississippi State, he moved his young family from the red clay hills of northeast Mississippi to the flat delta town of Greenville where he had taken a job with Chicago Mill and Lumber Company. Here is young James Luke Robinson standing outside the company's local office building, probably around 1962. Chicago Mill moved into the area to take advantage of the diverse hardwoods that populated the Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas deltas in the early 1900s. Like most timber companies of the time, they bought up vast tracts of land, harvesting the timber and transporting it to company-owned mills before manufacturing the lumber and shipping it out to lumber yards, either by barge or rail. Located in a port town, the Greenville location played an important role in transporting timber and lumber up and down the Mississippi River.

Hermann Paepcke, a German immigrant, started the lumber company in 1892. Headquartered in Chicago with its major operations at Cairo, Illinois, the company located the mill at Greenville sometime before 1927, the year of the Great Flood. The mill's 110-foot high smokestack was partially destroyed by flood waters that year. After a long life, the Greenville location closed its doors at the end of 2008, having already shut down most of the mill's operations some time before. The building pictured above has been long gone, although the tall smokestack in the background was still standing during my last visit to the Delta town.

Perhaps the most well-known story surrounding the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company involved its role in the extinction of the ivory-billed woodpecker. Or, I should say, near extinction, because after after a sixty-year period, this species of bird was discovered alive and well in a remote part of the Arkansas delta in 2005. You may remember the media coverage surrounding the discovery.

The ivory-billed woodpecker disappeared after its habitat was destroyed by the logging frenzy in the early twentieth century. In 1943, a small population of these birds, perhaps seven pairs, was found in the Singer tract (so-called because it was once held by the Singer Sewing Machine Company), an old-growth forest in Louisiana owned by Chicago Mill and Lumber Company. Despite pleas by the National Audubon Society, four Southern governors and numerous federal agencies, the lumber company refused to halt its logging operations, and within a year, the forest disappeared and with it, supposedly the last ivory-billed woodpecker. Go here to the Smithsonian Magazine's website to read more about this fascinating story.

There are estimates that nearly 17 million acres of forestland were lost in the lower Mississippi River floodplain, primarily due to timber harvesting by companies such as Chicago Mill and from the conversion of forests to farmland. Efforts are underway today to reclaim and reforest as much of the delta floodplain as possible. Can you imagine our Mississippi delta full of trees instead of fields of cotton or corn or rice?

12 comments:

Janice Tracy said...

I really enjoyed your post about the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company and all of the history it included.

Mona Robinson Mills said...

Thank you, Janice. What started out as a simple photograph of my father turned into a history lesson for me too!

Anonymous said...

To whom ever it concerns........I wrote to a bird watching society by email a few years back and was telling them of a place in NE texas where I believe that there is a Ivory billed woodpecker that exist on this property. If you contact me I will let you know where it is. I believe that it is a perfect location to exist without being noticed. I guess the other place did not want to know about it as they never emailed me back.
msturrock@sprynet.com

thanks

Kent

Mona Robinson Mills said...

Kent, thanks for your comment. How exciting to know of a location of previously-thought-to-be-extinct woodpeckers! Maybe the Audubon Society would be interested in the information? Or you could contact a local newspaper in the area to get the ball rolling.

Anonymous said...

Or you could keep it secret, so opportunistic hunters wouldn't raid your backyard to drive the species closer to extinction. You should report that at:

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ivory/

Anonymous said...

rampuraI hope by now you realize that the sighting of any new Ivory Billed Woodpeckers is a case of mistaken ientity and that the reality is the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company was indeed responsible for the demise of the Ivory Bill Woodpecker to a great degree. Ahh the good old days when money talked and animals went extinct.......jon wright, La Mesa, CA

Anonymous said...

Ivory Billed Woodpeckers are especially delicious with just butter and garlic salt. They are quite tender when broiled with this mixture @ 325 for about 45 minutes to an hour. I find a plentiful supply in Southern Washington County of Mississippi, seeing them in numbers ranging from 6-12 a day in the late spring and throughout the summer.

Anonymous said...

I was so interesting to see this blog when I just randomly searched for Chicago Mill. My father was employed by the company right out of high school in Chicago, left to serve in WWII, and resumed his employment the day after he was discharged from the Marines. We moved from Illinois to Greenville in September 1966 where my father, Edward Larsen, took on the job of Lab Manager. Also relocating to G'ville at the time included the Carlsons, Herbsts, Hillis family and more. Thanks for your article!
Barbara Larsen Harden

Anonymous said...

My father, Charkes S. Caruthers, was among those who migrated south from Chicage after the Prizker family and Will Gonyea bought Chicago Mill. He had begun working at Chicago Mill as an office boy in High School, got a degree in Finance and returned to become Traveling Auditor for the compantpy. In 1955 he was transferred to the Corporate office headquarters at The First National Bank building in Chicago where he became Comptroller and Vice-President. His is a wonderful story of finding a corporate "home" that lasted until his retirement 57.5 years later! My mother, Vernelle, still lives in Greenville and just turned 98!!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the typos above! Spell correct strikes again!

Anonymous said...

The federal government should have stepped in to prevent the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company from destroying the last habitat for the ivory billed woodpecker. Anyone at Chicago Mill and Lumber Company involved in making the decision to proceed with logging in the Singer Tract should have been prosecuted as the criminals they were and publicly executed.

Anonymous said...

MY GRAND FATHER JULIUS TAYLOR WORKED AT CHICAGO MILLS IN GREENVILLE MS IN THE LAT 50S AND THRU OUT THE 60S HE HAD THREE BOYS BUBBA OR JIMMY,, RAY AND JERRY , THE OLDEST BUBBA ALSO WORKED AT THE MILL, MY GRAND FATHER ALSO WORKED AT THE HELENA ARKANSAS PLANT, DOES ANY ONE REMEMBER THEM MIKE TAYLOR ST PETE , FL EMAIL CIRCLETRANCHFL@YAHO.COM