To early Euro-Americans, Maine simply was forest; an attraction for those whose homelands were increasingly short of trees. Early colonists reveled in seemingly limitless firewood and wrote “home” about it. Trees were the stuff of houses and heating, and an export product floated to the coast and processed in early sawmills.

The British Navy and British business quickly recognized the value of white pine: mast trees became protected royal property. Foreign capital and monopoly control came early to the Maine woods. (See Barry and Peabody, Tate House)

Trees were also a problem: how to clear cropland, pasture, roads? Ring-barked, chopped, burned; 19th Century Maine had more cleared farmland than ever before, or since. But forest still predominated, as presence and industry. And logging went far beyond the range of farming: more efficient means of cutting and transport moved Northward and Eastward, to regions where second and third growth has replaced the first.

Smith’s magisterial History of Lumbering in Maine details the saga of people, the evolution of tools, and the growth of companies that dominated the industry. Even more than lumber, pulp, and paper, with their massive chemical and mechanical processes, had no place for the small man.

Forests became other products. Bark and hides created a tanning industry (wealth in Maine has often been smelly). Value-adding meant wood turned into furniture. But larger scale establishments elsewhere prevailed. Lumber and paper were oligopolies: a few firms controlled them (and Maine politics for many decades).

But, besides the big companies with their massive plants and vast acreage, there have always been small mills, buying locals’ timber and selling various wood products, near and far. Hatch’s Scribners’ Mill, and the restored mill on the Crooked River, tell this story. From the 1840s to the 1960s it supplied jobs, building materials, and equipment.

The mill was always a work in progress. Additional machinery cut shingles, lathes turned Peavey handles, planers shaped boards for silos… The shift from reciprocating to circular saw meant doubling the height of the dam. Products traveled: from the nearby port of Harrison, via Long and Sebago Lakes and the Cumberland and Oxford Canal to Portland. And beyond: Scribners’ barrels, filled with local apples, went to Britain!

“Tree Farm” signs remind us that conservation has long competed with destruction.
Another story.

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