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
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
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
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
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
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
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]
Democrat-Star, Feb. 15, 1889.
Democrat-Star, Mar. 22, 1889.
Democrat-Star, Mar. 29, 1889.
Democrat-Star, May 3, 1889.
Democrat-Star, May 31, 1889.
Democrat-Star, June 14 and July 5, 1889.
Democrat-Star, Aug. 9, 1889.
Democrat-Star, Feb. 19, 1892.
Democrat-Star, July 22, 1892
Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 21 and 23, 1894.
Orleans Times-Picayune, Nov. 30, 1895.
Dec. 19, 1895.
Mar.1, 1898, and Democrat-Star Mar. 11, 1898.
August 20, 1898.
Picayune, October 9, 1898.
Picayune, March 1, 1899 and Democrat-Star, Mar. 3, 1899.
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.
County Deed Record E, p.293.
County Deed Record 20, p.258.
County Chancery Court Case #1023, Farnsworth Lbr. Co. vs. William
Howell, Oct. 28, 1901.
Perry, and Harrison County Deed Records.
Democrat-Star, August 11, 1899.
Democrat-Star, October 6, 1899.
Democrat-Star, Nov.10, 1899.
Democrat-Star, Nov. 24, 1899.
Democrat-Star, Dec. 22, 1899.
Co. Chancery Court Case No.4077, W.W. Farnsworth vs. Finkbine Lbr.
Democrat-Star, Oct. 10, 1902.
County Deed Record 21, p.527.
County Deed Record 26, p.531; Harrison County Deed Record 58, p.13.
Democrat-Star, July 28, Sept. 8, and Sept. 15, 1905.
County Deed Record 26, p.531; Harrison County Deed Record 58, p.13.
Democrat-Star, Feb. 19, 1909.
Feb. 10, 1911, reports of a fire in the slab pits, indicating that the
mill was probably still being run by Farnsworth Lbr. Co.
Democrat-Star, December 1, 1911.
Gilbert H. Hoffman.
Democrat-Star Dec. 17, 1915.
Chronicle-Star, May 18, 1928.
Point Advertiser, October 14, 1927.
|ROSTER by Gil Hoffman:
from Fitz-Hugh & Co., Chicago, IL
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.
to Birmingham Rail & Locomotive Co. #1001, Birmingham, AL; to McLean
Lumber Co., Chattanooga, TN, on 6-12-13.
from F. M. Hicks Company, Chicago, Ill. (dealer), in 8-1902.
secondhand. On hand by
as Wheeling & Elm Grove #3, Wheeling, WV (dummy type).
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