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How Over 36,000,000 Feet of Lumber Are Floated Down the Connecticut From the Headwaters--Mr. Van Dyke's Career.

The one great event of interest to the dwellers along the banks of the Connecticut between Holyoke and Turners Falls at the present time and to hundreds of automobilists and excursionists is the annual log drive of the Connecticut Valley Lumber company, which this year amounts to 36,000,000 feet and which is now nearing the end of its tedious journey at the mills at Mount Tom, having passed the dam at Turners Falls-- the last chief hindrance in the far journey from the waters of the upper Connecticut. The main part of the drive is now reaching its destination and the mills at Mount Tom which have been closed, waiting for a new supply, have started up again.

The Connecticut river presented a fine spectacle as it carried along off its broad bosom, swollen with the recent rain, the millions of logs, which have lain stranded up the river. Under the Hadley bridge the logs were rushing fast, directed in their course by boatmen, who were keeping them from jamming against the bridge piers. These comparatively few river drivers are being augmented in number by a small army of rivermen who will stay at Mount Tom just long enough to safely deliver their logs and then return to the woods of the North to begin again the work of cutting the lumber in preparation for another drive in the spring.

As the spectator looks at these logs, now finishing their long sail, his mind reverts naturally to the many changes which the wood has undergone since it left the primeval forest. Doubtless the process of logging in the woods and the drive in the river is familiar to most of our readers. First come the skirmishers of the army of invasion that is to conguer the pinery, who put up the shanties and open a tote road. Then the main log road with its branches is built. Next the skidways are made, on which the logs are to be stacked. Then the tree is attacked and the trunk measured off and sawn into logs 12, 14, or 16 feet in length. Then come the swamping and the skidding and the piling of the logs to await the spring. Now comes the drive, with life on the crib for the riverman it may be, and the handling of the logs as they float down the river and the use of the slide and the averting of the jam with its many dangers.

Though the process of converting a forest into lumber and its transportation by water, thus saving every house-builder a sizable amount of money, is interesting, no drive in the east is more interesting than the one on the Connecticut, for with it has been associated the name of George Van Dyke, the lumber king of New England, know to every Springfield lumber merchant and builder.

Ever since the early spring Mr. Van Dyke had been superintending the big drive of logs from the source of the Connecticut river until his tragic death in the automobile accident at Turners Falls, Sunday, Aug. 8, while superintending the forcing of the logs over the dam at that place. For 50 years Mr. Van Dyke had been breaking log jams on this river and here he amassed a fortune aggregating millions, doing work which he said was his only fun in the world. He spent his life wrestling with difficulties on the Connecticut river and seemingly doing impossible things. He was a man utterly devoid of fear.

Only last year in the course of one day down in his section, where the Connecticut river runs between tamed banks, Mr. Van Dyke was seen to drive an automobile over logs and sent his horse and buggy down at almost perpendicular bank, over well grown willow bushes. But these were nothing at all to a man who for 50 years had been breaking up log jams right in the midst of the danger. In places worse than he would sent the hardy woodsmen that follow the log down the Connecticut, the use of which river had been the source of Mr. Van Dyke's great fortune. Mr. Van Dyke was absolutely without fear. He knew better than most human beings how to take care of himself by thinking and acting quickly in times of danger.

The present Connecticut Valley Lumber company so closely connected with the trade here and of which Mr. Van Dyke was president, was the successor of three older large companies and its origin dates at the year 1876. Some New York men owned much the largest tract of timber lands around the sources of this river and being ready to begin bringing their lumber to market in 1876 they bought and improved an old saw mill at Dutch Point, Hartford, and cut and drove a lot of timber to that place. But the distance from the woods to Hartford and the dams at Holyoke and Windsor Locks, besides the trouble made by logs with so many inhabitants in Holyoke, Springfield and Hartford, as the logs floated without protection for many weeks past these places, soon convinced these men that Holyoke, was the lowest place on the river to which logs could be profitably driven. In 1879 this company bought the Mount Tom mill and all the business interest, connected with it from the McIndoes Lumber company. They also leased the Holyoke mill from the Holyoke Lumber company. In 1879 this company bought the Mount Tom mill and all the business interests connected with it. They also leased the Holyoke mill from the Holyoke Lumber company. In 1884, they united all their timber lands and mill interests with those owned by George Van Dyke, who had built and carried on the mil at McIndoes Falls after the old mill owned by the McIndoes Lumber company was burned in December, 1875.

Now the getting out of sixty million feet of timber, which required about 600,000 trees to be cut and hauled to the river, was an undertaking such as few can comprehend yet Mr. Van Dyke was always equal to the task. He always maintained that the first necessity for logging was a road good enough for sleds to run on and he was very particular that his roads did not get thawed. He personally superintended the building of shelters for his choppers and teams and made neat log houses, each built with low sides and steep roof, with a platform along each side on which his men slept in blankets. At first he heated his camphouse by leaving an open space along the ridge-pole for smoke to escape, keeping a fire on the ground nearly the whole length of the building in the middle, then having a door at the end and drawing in logs the full length for fuel. The sleepers would lie on the platforms each side with their feet towards this fire. An additional room was made for the cook.

From 25 to 40 men lived in each of these camp, all through the woods wherever he was cutting timber and here would be gathered the choppers, teamsters and sometimes a scaler or the man who measured the timber. Although it was impossible to make very long days in the northern woods, everybody worked as early and as late as they could see and none harder than Mr. Van Dyke.

In those early days the logs were piled upon sleds and hauled to the river or lake only by horses and if there was room they were put on the ice so that a thaw would leave them afloat ready to be started on the drive. The longest roads on which spruce timber was hauled on to the Connecticut river was not much more than five miles. Now that timber within that distance from the river has become more scarce the railroad and cars are used wherever the land is reasonably flat. Mr. Van Dyke's camps possessed this advantage in that unlike the camps in Maine they were near enough to the settlements, so that teams could go every day from the camps to places where provisions could be obtained.

In the early days, as now, the cutting of timber was kept up as long as snow held on the roads, which was quite late in those northern latitudes. When the river opened and there was a good height of water the logs were taken in hand by the drivers. With about 20 batteaux to take the men anywhere that the logs lodged and plenty of hands to start the masses, beginning with those down stream to make way for those behind the men would hurry along the drive.

A gang of cooks would go along shore and get meals ready wherever the drivers were at the hungry hour and the men needed good food and plenty of it, for they lead a strenuous life. They worked often in the water from daylight to dark, seven days a week, from 125 to 150 days until they brought the last logs to the mills. They ate four times a day and at night would lie down in their clothes under shelter tents with fires to dry their feet and clothing. Their labor has not been as severe as it was along in the early 70's. however, for the reason that Mr. Van Dyke and his family spent a handsome fortune within the years from 1885 to 1890 in clearing the river from obstructions so that the current would not pile timber into such jams in so many, dangerous places as formerly.

There was another danger which was obviated. The low meadows all along the river over which a sudden freshet would drift logs and then as suddenly falling would leave them often half a mile from the channel were formerly the most dreaded of any places. Just above these meadows there always are narrow places where booms can be hung across the river to hold drives. Mr. Van Dyke, at great expense, built booms at six such points and if the river rose so fast as to lift the logs over the banks men were stationed at these booms to close them and hold the logs until the water fell.

In former years the breaking of jams on starting of piles of logs was risky and often fatal work. Men went in batteaux below the jam, found some logs which might be cut to let the mass start and chopped enough to free the movement of the whole. As the body generally started gradually, the shoppers had warning and time to jump into the batteaux and be rowed ashore or down stream in safety. But sometimes the jam moved suddenly and every year one or more men would fail to get off the logs and would be drowned. But Mr. Van Dyke introduced a new and safer method by which the men would find the log which barred the passage of the others then bore a hole in it with a long auger, put a charge of dynamite in and with a long fuse from the shore, blow up the logs which held the mass. Often it would be necessary to throw the dynamite loosely into the water, let it be sucked under the pile, and exploded so as to lift the whole jam over the shoals or other obstructions. [Springfield Homestead.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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There is currently no available "Beginner" label. The following is the default level label: The harvesting of logs reached a peak in the first decade of the 20th century. George Van Dyke, whose recent death is eulogized here, owned the Connecticut Valley Lumber Company. It was one of the large timbering firms created in the late 1800s that began systematically harvesting timber from upper New England. The resulting deforestation, not only in New England but all over the country, gave a huge spur to the conservation movement. This movement was begun by President Theodore Roosevelt during his two terms as president (1901-09). Roosevelt, along with Division of Forestry head Gifford Pinchot, sought to regulate timber harvesting. The first steps to prevent widescale deforestation were taken. It was not until the 1960s that any serious effort was made to stop poorly conceived timber harvests and regulate the taking of lumber in the United States.


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"Annual Log Drive on the River"

publisher   Greenfield Gazette and Courier
date   Sep 4, 1909
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
width   2.25"
height   30.25"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L02.091

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See Also...

"Log Drive Nearly Past Turners"

"Burly Log Drivers Up River Start Biggest Drive Ever Seen"

Logging at the Oxbow on the Connecticut River near Holyoke, Mass.

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