Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 4 - Page 4, Submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, April 3, 2012

City Leader in Lumber Industry
Billions of feet of Lumber Produced at Heighth of Industry

The immediately accessible channel of transportation offered by the broad Mississippi and the able and energetic enterprise of the men who were at the head of the local industry placed Muscatine in an important position in the lumber trade of the nation.

Particularly in the latter half of the 9th century did the lumbering business thrive in Muscatine, and the aggregate production of lumber during the period from 1855 until near the end of the century is placed at an excess of 1,500,000,000 feet.

The names of Hershey, Musser, Kaiser, Huttig, Chambers and others are indelibly etched in the honor roll of those leading figures in the industry who were responsible for the expansion not only of the local business but in the building and growth of the entire community, as well.

The humble origin of the industry in Muscatine county dates back to the pioneer days of 1837 when A. O. and D. R. Warfield built a water mill with sash saw on Mad Creed. Sixteen by forty feet in size, its stock consisted mostly of native hardwoods, with an occasional stray pine picked up from the river. These logs were rolled into the side of the mill from a skidway.

The Warfields sold their plant to the Brooks brothers after several years and they continued to operate it until it was finally washed out in 1851. Also about this time there was a stream mill located at Geneva, the mill of the Longs on Sweetland creek, Nye’s mill on Pine creek, and Drury’s mill on Copperas creek.

All were about of the same type and character, and supplied the main portion of the lumber for the young settlement of Muscatine, the principal supply of logs being rafted down the Mississippi from the Black and Chippewa rivers.

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Cornelius Cadle established the first steam saw mill here in 1843, and this was soon afterwards purchased and operated by Chambers, Cadle and Co. A year later, J. G. Deshler and T. M. Isett opened lumber yards, and Deshler, in company with Col. John Vanater, bought the Geneva steam mill and removed it to Muscatine.

Other businesses set up and operated for a time. In 1851, Samuel McKibbin and T. M. Isett formed the first of S. M. McKibbin and Co., for operating a retail yard, closing out after the panic of 1857. S. G. Stein and S. G. Hill operated a sash door and blind factory, with planning mill, which they sold to Cadle and Mulford in about 1861.

The Union Lumber Co., with Thad c. Pound president and William Van Horne manager, opened a yard in 1873-4 for the sale of the cut from Pound’s mill at Chippewa Falls, bringing the lumber in rafts towed by their own boats. They constructed a dry kiln, 75 by 150feet in size, and built a planning mill, but in 1877 the kiln burned with 300,000 feet of lumber, and the company soon after went out of business.

The firm was sold, together with its stock of about 11,000,000 feet of lumber, to the Musser Lumber Co., and the planning mill and a cooper shop to U. N. Roberts and Co. who had a sash, door and blind factory at Davenport, with a branch office in Muscatine. Roberts and Co. put up a saw mill, which, after running for some time, they disposed of to Benjamin Hershey, who improved it until his investment amounted to about $250,000. It was afterwards sold to Kaiser Brothers who later formed the South Muscatine Lumber Co.

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In 1850, Jacob Hershey, a cousin of the late Benjamin Hershey, came to Muscatine, and in 1852 built a saw mill which had a circular saw for canting logs and a smaller one for sawing up the cants. He added a lath and also a shingle machine.

This mill was rented in 1853 by Benjamin Hershey who two years later purchased it from his cousin and in 1856-7 erected a new mill, equipped with gang saws, in order to cut down on timber waste in the form of sawdust. Workmen were unfamiliar with the gang saws which were new to this part of the country and for a time the lumber the mill turnout out was crooked and unsafe for planning. In time, though, the workmen became accustomed to their use and overcame the difficulty to turn out lumber of smooth uniform size.

The Hershey Lumber Co. was organized and incorporated for $200,000 in 1875, with Mr. Hershey, who held three-fourths of the stock, serving as president and treasurer. S. G. Stein was vice president and William L. Ewart, secretary. Their associates were H. W. Moore, G. A. Garretson, Thomas Irvine, and John Berkshire.

Among his first activities after incorporation was the purchase of the Burdick mill, built by the Roberts Co., which was bought later by the South Muscatine Lumber Co. Mr. Hershey also built a mill at Stillwater, Minn., rafting the lumber to Muscatine. The Hershey mills reached a capacity by 1890 for production of 70,000,000 feet of lumber and 20,000,000 shingles, with 15,000,000 lath. The mill at Stillwater cut about 20,000,000 feet of lumber annually.

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Chambers Brothers – the firm consisting of four brothers, William, Vincent, Anderson and John – were also active in the business and were for years a prominent factor in the lumbering industry here.

They had a large business along in the 1860’s, having two saw mills, a large packing house, grain elevator and a general store. The firm was among the first to go north into Wisconsin and Minnesota to procure their logs and raft them down the Mississippi to Muscatine, there to be turned out as finished products.

Others were quick to follow their lead, and the Mississippi was literally “clogged” for a period with large log rafts being maneuvered downstream to Muscatine and other river towns in this area which were active as lumbering centers.

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In the year 1859, Fred and William Huttig started two lumber yards, one at Kellogg, Ia., and one at Muscatine. Soon, the Huttigs, together with a traveling man named Falter, bought into the Cadle and Mulford planning mill which they rebuilt and started in the manufacture of sash, doors and similar products. The factory ran but a short time, however, when it burned.

The business was reorganized as the Huttig Bros. Manufacturing Co., and thus was laid the foundation for one of Muscatine’s leading enterprises. The company at organization consisted of William Huttig, president; F. Lumpe, vice president; Richard Cadle, secretary; Fred Huttig, treasurer; and Joseph Mulford, superintendent.

Previously, the early sash and door manufacturing had been carried on wholly by hand work and Abraham Smalley carried on that business in Muscatine for many years, running a small circular saw by wind-mill power to cut out his stock.

The Muscatine Sash and Door Co. had its origin from the Rev. R. W. H. Brent who settled in Muscatine in 1851. He had four sons whose mechanical inclinations led to the establishment of the Brent Manufacturing Co., which from a small manufacture of packing boxes, planning mills and the like grew to a point where in 1855 it became known as the Muscatine Manufacturing Co., with capital of $90,000. It was reorganized in 1889 as the Muscatine Sash and Door Co., with a capital of $200,000. W. L. Roach was president; C. R. Fox, vice president; C. R. Musser, secretary; and S. B. Cook, treasurer.

Incorporated in February of 1881 with a capital stock of $200,000, the Musser Lumber Co. was n outgrowth of the pioneer Muscatine lumber firm of R. Musser and Co. which had been established by Peter and Richard Musser and Edward Hoch in 1855.

The partners began by buying rafts of lumber in the river which they yarded and sold, both wholesale and retail. They also set up a lumber yard at Iowa City in 1856 which was managed by Peter Musser until he went to California in 1864. Mr. Hoch remained in the firm only three years, retiring in 1858, and the firm then became R. Musser and Co.

P. M. Musser became a member of the firm in 1864, assuming management of the Iowa City yard which he conducted until 1873 when he and John Porter purchased the interest of R. Musser and Co. in the Iowa City branch which they carried on under the firm name of Musser and Porter. Mr. Musser still retained his interest in the business at Muscatine.

It was in the spring of 1871 they completed their mill at a ...

(Continued on Page 6, submitted by Shirley Plumb)

... point along the Mississippi River known as Musserville, and began the manufacture of lumber. The mill cut about 11,000,000 feet of lumber a year.

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Several changes then took place in the organization of the firm. Richard Musser retired in 1873, selling his interest to P. M. Musser, the firm being known as P. M. Musser and Co. Three years later, Richard Musser renewed his connection with the company and the firm name of Musser and Co. was again adopted.

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In 1877, the company rebuilt its mill, putting in improved machinery and increasing capacity materially. Having attained important proportions it was decided four years later to organize under an act of incorporation under the name of the Musser Lumber co. Peter Musser was president; Richard Musser, vice president; P. M. Musser, secretary and treasurer; and C. R. Fox, yard and planning mill superintendent.

During this same year, 1861, another extensive remodeling and expansion program was undertaken, outfitting the mill with the most modern and improved machinery, making it one of the most complete and capacious sawmills on the Mississippi River.

As of the late 1880’s, the company had a capacity for turning out 50,000,000 feet of lumber, 12,000,000 of lath and 12,000,000 of shingles for the working season, and its annual output was placed at those figures.

The Musser Co. also owned large tracts of pine lands in the Chippewa pinery of Wisconsin and the Minnesota lumber regions. Their logs were cut by contract and rafted to Muscatine. For a period of 12 years, it also operated its own rafting steamers, but sold them during the season of 1888.

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Records disclose that Muscatine ranked second among cities of the state in lumbering in 1867, when figures for the city included: 12, 260,000 feet sawed, 8,400,000 feet bought in water, 33,000,0000 feet sold, 12,750,000 shingles sold, 8,257,000 lath sold, and 10,000,000 feet of lumber on hand.

Here are some other brief items of interest as listed from news stories of their time:

    May 10, 1872—A monster raft, containing 2,000,000 feet of lumber and loaded with 500,000 shingles, 700,000 lath and 100,000pickets, passed down in tow of the rafter J. W. Van Sant.

    Nov. 19, 1872—Chambers mill cutout of one log, 51 feet long and 27 inches across the top, two pierces 6x66x51 for bridge timber, and 500 feet of lumber. It was straight and sound and scaled 1,841 feet.

    1882—Over 10,000 cars of lumber sash, doors and other articles were shipped out.

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But around the close of the 19th century came unmistakable signs of the approaching doom of the lumber industry in Muscatine. A $200,000 fire destroyed the Muscatine Lumber co. in 1886 and it was never rebuilt. Hit by economic conditions and the increased cost of transporting logs from the north, other local mills, including the Mussers’ and Hersheys’, gradually passed from existence, until by 1905 the lumbering industry in Muscatine was practically extinct.

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