Farnsworth Lumber Co.

Standard gauge, -lb rail

Headquarters: Pascagoula, MS

Mill Location: Pascagoula, MS ( Jackson County)

Mill Capacity: 55,000 ft/day in 1910

Years of Operation (RR): 1899-1910

Miles Operated

Locomotives Owned: 3



Click Map for Larger Version

History by Tony Howe:

     The lumber export company of Hunter, Benn & Co. was organized in the mid-1880's in Mobile, Alabama, by two Scottish immigrants, James Hunter, and his brother Robert Hunter, and Arthur S. Benn. The company, in association with Price and Pierce, international timber merchants, did a large timber export business in Mobile, selling the output of several mills in Alabama.[i]

     In 1889, Hunter, Benn & Company decided to build a sawmill in Mississippi at the town of Scranton, later combined with the nearby town of Pascagoula in October of 1903. With much timber available along the Escatawpa and Pascagoula Rivers, and excellent shipping facilities, which included the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and the nearby Gulf of Mexico, Scranton was an excellent location for sawmilling. A 380 by 500 foot mill site, known as the Krebs property, was leased from Mrs. M.L. Ker in February 1889. This property was located along the east bank of the Pascagoula River, about two blocks  south of the L&N, with Ker Street bordering on the east.[ii] Another four lots, measuring a total of 280 feet along the river by 250 feet deep, were purchased from Mrs. Hermina Ellison for $1600 cash.[iii] Hunter, Benn & Co. had to petition the city street committee for permission to build a railroad spur from the L&N down Frederick Street to the mill site. Permission was granted by late March. Work on the 75,000 board foot capacity mill started in March of 1889. J.F. Casey, from Mobile, in addition to designing the mill, superintended the construction of the mill. While excavating for the foundation of the mill during the last week of March, crews were surprised to find several skeletons, many of which were said to be of gigantic proportions. Many of  the older citizens were consulted, and none of them knew anything of this property ever being used as a graveyard. It was determined that the remains were of Pascagoula and Biloxi Indians.[iv] Work on the mill building proceeding quickly, with the main building being completed in 22 days, using an average of 15 men. This building was 181 feet long by 42 feet wide, with a 13 foot lower story and 12 foot upper story. The engine and two main shafts were put in position on Tuesday, April 31.[v]  J.F. Casey, while managing the construction of the mill, moved into the house formerly occupied by Mr. A.E. Krebs on the river front adjacent to the mill during the last week of May. Also during that week, while workers were placing the large smokestack in position, one of the cables broke and the stack fell with a heavy crash, smashing it flat. Crews just straightened it out the best they could, and placed in back in position.[vi] As the projected completion date of June 15 neared, most of the mill was finished. The only thing holding up work was the late arrival of several appliances, including the steam feed, which had to be made to order. These last parts finally arrived and were installed and the mill was finally steamed up to test the machinery on July 5.[vii] The mill consisted of a 24 by 36 inch engine, which powered 2 band wheels, one 12 feet in diameter with a 30 inch fare, the other 10 feet by 25 inches. The engine was powered by two boilers 72 inches in diameter by 16 feet long, which produced 250 horsepower. The main driving belt was 6 ply 28 inch wide sewn rubber. The mill had a 4 block carriage made by E.P. Alles & Co. On August 9, J.F. Casey made the first official cut at the mill.[viii] 

     As the mill was being completed, Hunter, Benn & Co. advertised in the local newspaper, the Pascagoula Democrat-Star, for “responsible logmen to contract for 50,000 to 100,000 yellow pine logs.” Like most of the mills in the Moss Point-Pascagoula area during this time, Hunter, Benn & Co. owned very little timberland of their own. Instead, they depended on independent contract loggers for their timber supply. Logs were cut by these loggers and rafted down the Pascagoula and Escatawpa Rivers and delivered to the mills at the company’s log booms near Moss Point. Loggers were contracted as far north as Hattiesburg, on the Leaf River, to supply the mill. Among these early logmen hired was Henry Brannon, of Mobile, who logged along the Escatawpa River in northeastern Jackson County, and Murdock McInnis, who logged in Greene County.

     Sometime around 1890, H.C. Herring, W.W. Farnsworth, and R.A. Farnsworth joined the firm of Hunter, Benn & Co. Hartman Cushman Herring was born in Beaumont, Texas, on August 19, 1868. He was associated, along with the Farnsworths, with the Texas Tram & Lumber Company for six or seven years prior to coming to Mississippi. Robert A. Farnsworth and William W. Farnsworth were both born in Pensacola, Florida; Robert in 1861 and William in 1860. In February of 1892, the Hunter, Benn & Co’s mill at Scranton was renamed the Farnsworth Lumber Company, although Hunter, Benn & Co. was still one of the principal owners. W.W. Farnsworth became president of the new company, with R.A. Farnsworth serving as vice-president, and H.C. Herring serving as secretary and treasurer.[ix]

     Like most sawmills, the Farnsworth Lbr. Co. had its share of fires. On the night of Wednesday, July 20, 1892, fire broke out in the dry kilns, and quickly spread to the planing mill. Although the sawmill was saved, the fire caused about $15,000 worth of damage, which was partly covered by insurance.[x] Another fire, caused by a spark from the slab burner, broke out in the lumber yard on July 6, 1894.[xi] Just three months later, on October 20, another fire started in the dry kiln, causing $2400 in damage.[xii] The dry kiln was the source of another fire on November 29, 1895.[xiii] Just a couple weeks later, on Dec. 19, another fire broke out in the Farnsworth lumber yard.[xiv]

     As a protection against more fires, Farnsworth Lbr. Co. decided to build a more substantial slab pit for burning mill waste in early March 1898. This new slab pit was unusual in that it utilized ballast rock for its 28 foot diameter foundation. This was the first time that this material had been used for building purposes, even though thousands of tons were being brought to Scranton and Moss Point every year on ships and just thrown away. The 100 foot tall superstructure for the burner was made of steel, and was surrounded by a water space. The burner was reported to cost between $7000 and $8000.[xv]

     During the year 1898, the lumber industry as a whole was experiencing a boom, and the Farnsworth Lbr. Co. was no exception. By August, the mill was running day and night to keep up with the demand for lumber. New lumber sheds were being built next to the mill at Scranton.[xvi]

     On October 8, 1898, an accident at the mill forced the mill to shut down for a short time. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports:

     “Scranton, Miss., October 8. - This morning at 8 o’clock Eugene Nelson , the sawyer at Farnsworth Bros.’ mill, narrowly escaped being mangled to death while at work sawing. As the saw was going through a large pine log, a piece of the slab caught in the head block, and on removing the slab it struck on the hip, knocking him over. Nelson attempted to regain the lever in order to stop the saw, but was again knocked over, the carriage going wild, knocking out the head bumper and breaking the piston rod, necessitating the closing down of the mill for repairs. Nelson was taken to his home, where his injuries were found to be painful, but not serious.”[xvii] 

     Another disaster struck on February 28, 1899. About 8:30 that morning, a fire broke out in the dry kiln again. This proved to be the first test for the new Scranton fire company and their new water works. The fire fighters had a difficult time getting to the fire at first, but after an hour, they had the fire under control. The only loss to the Farnsworth Lbr. Co. was about 20,000 feet of lumber and the dry kiln itself, which was partially covered by insurance.[xviii]

     The lumber boom the company was experiencing allowed the company to finance the largest period of growth the company had seen. Throughout the late 1890's, most of the sawmills in the area were finding that their dependency on contract loggers had its limitations. The sawmills had to shut down periodically because of a lack of logs, especially during droughts, when the loggers couldn’t raft the logs down the smaller tributaries of the Pascagoula and Escatawpa Rivers to the mills. In order to provide a more steady source of logs, many of the larger mills started buying up large areas of timberland, and using their own crews to do the logging. The Farnsworth Lbr. Co. was forced into buying their own timberland before it passed into the hands of competing mills, such as the neighboring L.N. Dantzler and W. Denny Lumber Companies. On March 29, 1899, the Farnsworth Lbr. Co. purchased approximately 12,680 acres of timberland from Hovey and McCracken, timber speculators from Muskegon, Michigan. This timberland was located in extreme northwestern Jackson County, later George County, northeastern Harrison, later Stone, County, and southern Perry County.[xix] Another 5840 acres or so of timberland was purchased from George S. Leatherbury, Jr. on July 1, 1899 for $8990.40. This land was all located within 4 to 5 miles of whereBates Creek flowed into the Pascagoula River in northern Jackson County.[xx] Leatherbury was operating a large turpentine operation at this location, known as Old Still Landing, or Leatherbury Landing. Another 520 acres were purchased from Leatherbury on September 2, 1899, along with 25 head of oxen and 5 log carts.[xxi]

     Another tract of land was acquired in the vicinity of Cumbest Bluff, on the east side of the Pascagoula River in central Jackson County. On May 11, 1899, 1818 acres of timberland was acquired from parent Hunter, Benn & Co. This tract, known as the Heck lands, was the first to be logged by rail. That month, the Farnsworth Lbr. Co. contracted with William Howell, an experienced contract logger living nearby, to log these lands. The contract specified that Howell use from ten to fifteen teams to log the tract. Howell instead chose to build a pole road, and purchased 4 log cars. It is not known whether Howell used a steam locomotive, or just mules or oxen to haul the logs to the Pascagoula River at Cumbest Bluff, where the logs were dumped into the river and rafted to the mill. Howell was paid $3.25 per thousand board feet of logs that were delivered to the mill. Between 1899 and 1901, Howell cut about 15,188 logs from the Heck tract, which totalled 2,600,999 board feet.[xxii] Another adjacent tract of 3400 acres owned by Hunter, Benn & Co. was also probably logged by this pole road before it was removed in March 1901. 

     During the year 1899, Farnsworth Lbr. Co. continually added to its holdings near Leatherbury Landing. In November, the company purchased 880 acres of land in Jackson Co. and 440 acres in Perry Co. from M.J. O’Neal. An additional 4260 acres were bought in the general area throughout 1899 from various local landowners.[xxiii]

     In order to log the growing tract of timber near Leatherbury Landing, totalling 24,560 acres by the end of 1899, a logging railroad was constructed from the river landing, at the mouth of Bates Creek, into the timber to the west. Farnsworth Lbr. built a store and laid out a small town at the landing, initially calling it Rettaville, after Miss. Henrietta Farnsworth, WW. and R.A. Farnsworth’s cousin.[xxiv] In early October, 1899, the Farnsworths received 16 mules and 2 draft horses from Maysville, Kentucky, for use in the logging operations at Rettaville.[xxv] To lay out the new logging railroad, Farnsworth Lbr. Co. sent Mr. Fred Hess, an astronomer and civil engineer from Pascagoula.[xxvi] A used locomotive was purchased from the Lake Street Elevated Railroad in Chicago, Illinois, where the engine carried the number 12. This locomotive, an 0-4-4 Forney type,  was built by Rhode Island in 9-1893 for the Lake Street Elevated as a 13 and 21 by 18 inch compound, but was converted to  14 by 18 simple cyliders before it was sold to Farnsworth. This standard gauge engine, weighing about 30 tons, had 44 inch drivers, and was fairly large for a Forney. This engine finally arrived at Pascagoula on Monday, November 20, 1899.[xxvii] This engine, along with several log cars, were loaded on a barge and transferred to Rettaville by the middle of December.[xxviii]

     Timber was bought in areas other than Rettaville, also. In 1899, J.F. O’Neal, from the Perkinston area, joined the company. O’Neal, prior to this time, was a contract logger for Farnsworth, and delivered much timber to the mill at Scranton. From 1899 until his death in 1904, O’Neal was employed as land buyer by Farnsworth. W.W. Farnsworth would furnish money to O’Neal, who would travel around and buy timber under his name and W.W. Farnsworth. O’Neal would retain one-third title to the land, while W.W. Farnsworth would retain two-thirds ownership.[xxix] In 1899, Farnsworth and O’Neal purchased 8222 acres of timberland in Jackson County alone. Most of this timber was located east of the Pascagoula River north of Americus, and south of the Vestry community in western Jackson Co. Another 4800 acres were purchased in Harrison County. This timber was scattered across northern Harrison County east of Wiggins, and within 5 miles of Perkinston.

     Sometime before 1902, the logging camp of Rettaville was renamed Benndale, after the parent company of Farnsworth Lbr. Co., Hunter, Benn & Co. A school was built there for the benefit of the children of the log men in 1902.[xxx]

    From 1900 to 1903, additional timber was slowly puchased that was within easy reach of the logging railroad in the Benndale area. On July 1900, a tract of 1280 acres was purchased from the L.N. Dantzler Lbr. Co. This tract was near the Jackson-Harrison County line, about two miles north of Black Creek.[xxxi] A tract of 400 acres in Perry Co. was purchased from A&M College in 1900. An additional 760 acres in Jackson Co. were purchased from various landowners in this area in 1900, and only 80 acres were bought in 1901. In 1902 and 1903, only 400 acres were bought in this area. After 1903, only 280 acres were bought for the operations in this area. In fact, on August 13, 1903, all timberland owned by Farnsworth Lumber Co. in this area was sold to Hunter, Benn & Co. for $45,153.14. Farnsworth was givin 8 years to remove the remaining timber over 8 inches in diameter, which was not to exceed 118 million board feet.[xxxii] 

   Timber was also purchased by Farnsworth and O’Neal in other parts of Jackson County from 1900 until 1903.  A total of 5460 acres were purchased within that time period. Most of this timber was located in the vicinity of the Daisy and Bonnie Chapel communities, just south of Vestry. It is not known whether Farnsworth planned to log this tract by railroad or not. A short railroad could have been built northward to Vestry, where the logs could have been dumped into Red Creek and rafted to the mill. The only problem was that most of the surrounding area was already owned by the Dantzler Lbr. Co. In 1903, Farnsworth sold this timber to the Vancleave Lbr. Co., a Dantzler subsidiary.

     Farnsworth and O’Neal also purchased tracts of timber throughout Harrison County from 1900 through 1906. Some of the timber was located a few miles north of Biloxi, but a majority of it was located within 6 miles of Perkinston. A total of 5380 acres were purchased in Harrison County during this time period. On --, 1901, about 7680 acres of timberland was sold to John Gary, who owned considerable acreage in that area already. This timber was located in scattered tracts across northern Harrison County, and was located too far from the logging railroad at Benndale to be hauled there economically. The timber north of Biloxi, amounting to about 1200 acres, was sold to the Vancleave Lbr. Co. on June 5, 1903.

     Back at the mill, if lack of reports in the local newspaper is any sign, accidents at the mill were surprisingly few from 1900 through 1905. This came to an end on the morning of Saturday, July 28, 1905, when the crank pin of the driving engine broke, wrecking and rendering it and the auxiliary machinery useless. The mill had to be shut down for two months for repairs. A new rolling valve engine was ordered from Filer and Stowell Co., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and finally arrived on September 2nd. This new engine was put in place and the mill started up again on September 18th.[xxxiii]

    At Benndale, the railroad was gradually extended westward into Harrison County. Spurs were laid and taken up as various tracts of timber were cut. Sometime before 1903, the company bought a steam skidder for use at Benndale.[xxxiv] A second locomotive was also purchased sometime before March 1905. This engine, a Baldwin Locomotive Works   0-4-2T “dummy” type, was puchased secondhand. It was built in June of 1884 for the Wheeling & Elm Grove Railroad in Wheeling, West Virginia, as their number 3.  This locomotive weighed only 17 tons, and had 35 inch drivers.

     On September 26 and 27, 1906, one of the largest and most destructive hurricanes up to that time struck the coast of Alabama and Mississippi. It rained steadily for two days before the storm actually hit. When the destructive winds finally hit, many of the trees were easily blown down due to the soggy ground. Some estimated that nearly 60 per cent of the standing timber was blown down. All of the mills at Moss Point and Pascagoula were heavily damaged. The Farnsworth Lbr. sawmill received about $5000 in damage. Farnsworth logging crews had to hurry to try to save as much downed timber as possible before insects and rot ruined the timber. 

     Prior to this time, Farnsworth had done nothing to log the tracts that were acquired near Perkinston. After the hurricane, he moved quickly to build a mill on the north side of Perkinston, on the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad. Perhaps with a sense of humor, W.W. Farnsworth incorporated the Hurricane Lumber Company to operate this mill. He also incorporated the Calamity Land Company to acquire and sell land. A 2-6-0 locomotive, and probably several log cars and a quantity of rail, was purchased from the nearby Gary & Fatheree Lbr. Co. at Perry, whose mill had just burned and decided to get out of the sawmill business. A railroad was laid in early 1907 southeastward out of Perkinston into the company’s timber along the south side of Red Creek.

     The railroad at Benndale probably operated until 1909 or 1910, when the mill at Pascagoula shut down. In fact, the mill was forced to shut down several days as early as Feb. 1909 due to a scarcity of logs.[xxxv]  In March of 1910, J.T. Rigsby was transferred to Perkinston, to become manager of that mill.[xxxvi] The mill possibly operated as late as 1911.[xxxvii] In late November 1911, the sawmill was leased to Paul Smith and T.F. Johnson for one year. The mill was restarted by December 1, but it is not known how long the mill actually operated.[xxxviii]  In May of 1913, the machinery of the mill was sold to the American Supply Co., of Mobile, Alabama. On January 4, 1914, the abandoned sawmill building burned to the ground.[xxxix]

     So what happened to the Farnsworths? Robert Farnsworth stayed in Pascagoula, where he served on the city council and school board, and later was a road commissioner of beat 3. He also operated a coal dock near the site of the old sawmill, where coal was transferred from railroad hoppers to small boats for use as fuel. He finally passed away on Dec. 14, 1915.[xl] W.W. Farnsworth continued to operate the Hurricane Lbr. Co. at Perkinston until 1910, when he leased the operation to J.F. Wilder. He then moved to Denver, Colorado, and then to Toledo, Ohio, Chicago, Illinois, and finally to Coalingo, California, where he entered the oil business. He died in California on May 7, 1928.[xli] H.C. Herring went on to own several more sawmills in Mississippi, including the Moss Point Lbr. Co., and the Richton Lbr. Co. He also organized the Bank of Moss Point in 1906, and when that bank became the Pascagoula National Bank in 1907, he became its first president, until he retired in 1926. He passed away October 13, 1927.[xlii]

[i].Mississippi Harvest, pp.49-50.

[ii].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, Feb. 15, 1889.

[iii].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, Mar. 22, 1889.

[iv].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, Mar. 29, 1889.

[v].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, May 3, 1889.

[vi].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, May 31, 1889.

[vii].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, June 14 and July 5, 1889.

[viii].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, Aug. 9, 1889.

[ix].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, Feb. 19, 1892.

[x].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, July 22, 1892


[xi].New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 7, 1894.

[xii].New Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 21 and 23, 1894.

[xiii].New Orleans Times-Picayune, Nov. 30, 1895.

[xiv].Times-Picayune, Dec. 19, 1895.

[xv].Times-Picayune Mar.1, 1898, and Democrat-Star Mar. 11, 1898.

[xvi].Times-Picayune, August 20, 1898.

[xvii].Times Picayune, October 9, 1898.

[xviii].Times Picayune, March 1, 1899 and Democrat-Star, Mar. 3, 1899.

[xix].Jackson Co. Deed Record 19, p.585, Harrison Co. Deed Book 40, p.416; American Lumberman 4-15-1899 p.34, states that the tract purchased from Hovey & McCracken totalled 12,990 acres, but examination of deed records shows the total was closer to 12,680 acres.

[xx].George County Deed Record E, p.293.

[xxi].Jackson County Deed Record 20, p.258.

[xxii].Jackson County Chancery Court Case #1023, Farnsworth Lbr. Co. vs. William Howell, Oct. 28, 1901.

[xxiii].Jackson, Perry, and Harrison County Deed Records.

[xxiv].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, August 11, 1899.

[xxv].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, October 6, 1899.

[xxvi].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, Nov.10, 1899.

[xxvii].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, Nov. 24, 1899.

[xxviii].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, Dec. 22, 1899.

[xxix].Harrison Co. Chancery Court Case No.4077, W.W. Farnsworth vs. Finkbine Lbr. Co.,1913.

[xxx].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, Oct. 10, 1902.

[xxxi].Jackson County Deed Record 21, p.527.

[xxxii].Jackson County Deed Record 26, p.531; Harrison County Deed Record 58, p.13.

[xxxiii].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, July 28, Sept. 8, and Sept. 15, 1905.

[xxxiv].Jackson County Deed Record 26, p.531; Harrison County Deed Record 58, p.13.

[xxxv].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, Feb. 19, 1909.


[xxxvi].Democrat-Star, March 11, 1910.

[xxxvii].Democrat-Star, Feb. 10, 1911, reports of a fire in the slab pits, indicating that the mill was probably still being run by Farnsworth Lbr. Co.

[xxxviii].Pascagoula Democrat-Star, December 1, 1911.

[xxxix].From Gilbert H. Hoffman.

[xl].Pascagoula Democrat-Star Dec. 17, 1915.

[xli].Pascagoula Chronicle-Star, May 18, 1928.

[xlii].Moss Point Advertiser, October 14, 1927.



















ROSTER by Gil Hoffman:


?              0-4-4F                 Rhode Island        2955                    9-1893                     44                    14x18                      60000

Purchased from Fitz-Hugh & Co., Chicago, IL

Built as Lake Street Elevated #12 “David W.,” Chicago, IL (a 13&21x18 compound), retired in 1896; to Fitz-Hugh & Co., in 1899. Converted to 14x18 simple cylinders.

Sold to Birmingham Rail & Locomotive Co. #1001, Birmingham, AL; to McLean Lumber Co., Chattanooga, TN, on 6-12-13.


?              6-wheel                                                                                                                                                                  80000

Purchased from F. M. Hicks Company, Chicago, Ill. (dealer), in 8-1902.


?              0-4-2TB              Baldwin                  7358                    6-1884                     35                    11x16                      34000

Purchased secondhand.  On hand by 3-1905.

Built as Wheeling & Elm Grove #3, Wheeling, WV (dummy type).

                Sold to Twin Tree Lumber Co., Maplesville, AL.






                                     HOME                                              ABOUT  US                                              LINKS           




For more information contact Tony Howe at howe6818@bellsouth.net or David S. Price at dsprice46@bellsouth.net