A steam saw mill was then as much of a sight as a Barnum’s Big Show now

Posted by | November 8, 2016

In Grantsville district quite a number of water power mills were erected between the years 1835 ~ 1855, but there are now only two or three within the same limits. Steam power mills have taken their places.

In 1837, a man by the name of Williams, from Pennsylvania, built the first steam saw mill on the Red Run, two miles above the National Road.  He bought a splendid lot of 250 acres of pine from Daniel Durst, which was used in about three years with no profit to the proprietor.

A steam saw mill was then as much of a sight as a Barnum’s big show now.  The next mill of the kind was that of Kreeks, between the two Savages, about 1840.  In a few years the timber on the premises was cut and the mill entirely abandoned.  He was a merchant in Frostburg, and went into banking ~ issuing circulating notes of small denominations, commonly called shinplasters.  Considerable show and pretension, but no real success.

Garrett County MD sawmill

“Sawmills and logging companies threaten the remaining supply of timber in Garrett County, Maryland,” reads caption to this 1936 photo.

On the north side of the pike, in the same line or valley, Joshua Johnson built a fine mill in 1840.  Henry Brown was builder; it burnt, but was promptly rebuilt.  Johnson then lived in Frederick, and was proprietor of about 15,000 acres of Timberland in that vicinity.  The late Meshac Frost about the same time erected the Grove Mill, and his son William and Nelson Beall ran it till the adjacent timber was consumed.

Then Frost moved the mill down to the pike and conducted it on his own account upon a large basis for a number of years.  This place was in the Shades of death, so much noted for gloom and daring acts of villainy in the long ago past years.  Mr. F. went out of business in the war times, and still survives, living in a beautiful cottage in this once hideous valley.

J. H. Hoblitzell once ran a mill for a few years a mile west of the Johnson place.  The late Nelson Beall and his brother Richard were in former years actively engaged in the manufacture of lumber.  That excellent and useful man, the late C. M. Graham, was largely and profitably engaged in lumbering at different points in the lower part of the district.

As a general thing the business was not profitable, only there and there success rewarded hard labor and drudgery.  Operations in pine are considerably smaller than in recent years, but there is still sufficient timber in this part of the county for profitable business or investments for years to come.

Mr. P. Dorsey and the Messrs. Johnson are now actively engaged in the business.  The demand for lumber is on the growth, while the supply is shrinking.  There are in the southwest part of the county vast bodies of timber, especially of the Yough and North Branch, hardly touched.

Among the large owners in the former valley (for sale) are the McFerrans, of this city, (Cumberland) and Messrs. Witts of Pennsylvania and Ohio; and in the latter Mr. G. L. Wellington has recently purchased large and valuable timber tract as an investment, or sale, as circumstances may warrant.

Timberland capitalists are now purchasing lands in that favored part of the county with a view of entering largely in the manufacture of lumber.  They are experienced men from the lumber regions of Pennsylvania, and will bring with them the most modern labor saving facilities now in use.

These are the guarantees of profits in the lumber trade as now conducted.  Formerly the gains were lost in the antiquated and expensive manner of drawing logs to the mills.  Now at a well equipped saw mill the raw material is brought to the spot almost by science at greatly reduced cost, with no waste whatever; every part of the tree being utilized and made to pay tribute to the business.

Cut-over in Garrett County, MD; 1935.

Cut-over in Garrett County, MD; 1935.


Shingle making has always been treated as a branch of the timber business.   In early times they were made of oak wood, but 60 ~ 70 years ago it was discovered that white pine was more than a substitute, and much easier to work.  Since then all shingles have been made of pine.  In the beginning, entirely with drawing knife, but in latter years principally with the circular saw; but the knife is still used to some extent, and its product is by far the best and most durable.

Quite a number of people still make their living by shaving shingles, mostly from remnants of pine trees cut up for saw logs.  Hard material for roofing, such as tin and slate, are becoming unsatisfactory, after experiments of ten or twenty years, and shingles shaved in the old way are regaining their lost popularity.  There are now roofs in Garrett County forty to fifty years old in pretty good condition.  What other material can stand such tests?

“Brown’s Miscellaneous Writings,” by Jacob Brown, ‘prepared and written from 1880 to 1895’, Cumberland, Md.: Printed by J.J. Miller, 1896

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