While the first settlements were on Red River, and the early immigrants, searching for rich farm land, carved out thriving plantations in the parish's rich, bottom land, the poorer hill sections in the western and southwestern portion lay untouched for many years.
Clair A. Brown, renowned Louisiana botanist, summarized the basis of early land selection as: "Lands which produced magnolia and cane were considered good; whereas, pine lands were considered worthless." Yet these hills held a treasure which in the first decades of the 1900's was finally reaped and brought men, money and development to the parish. Even today it contributes the majority of agricultural-based income and provides more jobs than the traditional row crops of cotton, sugar cane and soybeans.
The treasure was the vast primeval forest of Southern pine. Louisiana's earliest historian LePage du Pratz had noted that the "pine-tree which loves a barren sould" was of excellent quality and in great abundance.
Lack of rail transportation in the Southern pinelands prevented their early exploitation. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were rated as the top three timber producers in the 1880 census while Louisiana ranked 30th. In a few short years this picture changed as the northern forest were stripped and railroads were built in Louisiana.
Many of the northern lumbermen then moved into Louisiana. Some followed the traditional "cut out and get out" practice of moving or abandoning their mills after the local timber was cut. The far West next felt the lumberman's saw.
Many of Rapides parish's most prominent families and land holders stem from the area's "golden age" of lumbering, 1890-1920's, including names like Crowell, Kellog, Harris, Lee, Foote, Martin, Levin, Smith, Bolton, Beezley, Bentley, Hardtner and Tannehill. Rapides Parish's first large mill was established in 1891 by two Pennsylvanians, J. A. Bentley and E. W. Zimmerman with their J. A. Bentley Lumber Company 17 miles northwest of Alexandria at Zimmerman. It burned in 1906 but was rebuilt. Bentley also organized the Enterprise Lumber Company which operated from 1903 - 1023. This is the same Mr. Bentley who built Alexandria's Bentley Hotel.
Caleb T. Crowell, founder of the tow of Stamps, Ark., where he first operated a mill, organized the Bodcaw Lumber Company. Later he purchased a tract of virgin timber about 30 miles south of Alexandria at a site he named Long Leaf. Joining him in partnership for the new mill was A. B. Spencer. Caleb Crowell moved to Los Angeles but his son J. Stamps Crowell returned at age 18 to run the Crowell & Spencer Lumber Company after Mr. Spencer's health failed.
Long-Bell Lumber Company operated the Rapides Lumber Company at Woodworth, and further south on the same rail line at McNary was the W. M. Cady Lumber Company. After this mill moved to McNary, Arizona, its cutover land in Louisiana was used to pay off a $500,000 debt to one of its investors, Branch Smith. Later 13,000 of these acres were sold to the U.S. government for the location of Camp Claiborne. Mr. Smith had previously sold 3000 acres to the state of Louisiana to be added to the Alexander State Forest.
Louisiana was not the only governmental agency to buy cut-over land for reforestation. Caroline Dorman, who later gained international fame as a botanist, author and horticulturist, urged the federal government to preserve a tract of virgin pine in the Kisatchie hills as a national forest. Even though she was unable to preserve the virgin stand Miss Dorman was instrumental in establishing Kisatchie National Forest.
Despite Congress's passage of the Clarke-McNary Act (1924) authorizing the government to buy cut-over timber lands, the lack of an Enabling Act in Louisiana prevented any acquisitions. Miss Dorman wrote such an act and with Henry Hardtner's help it was adopted by the Legislature. In 1928 the Kisatchie, Catahoula and Vernon units of Kisatchie were established with acreage limitations of 175,000 acres. An average price of $3.00 per acre was paid for the early tracts. The acreage was later increased. In 1940 Rapides Parish Police Juror Jesse Boyd's motion was adopted giving approval to additional purchases up to 150,000 acres in Rapides. Today the total owned by Kisatchie in this parish is 102,008.86 acres.
For years the vast cut-over areas failed to reproduce due to wild fire, hogs, and the public's unawareness of the economic advantage in reforestation. A great impetus was given to the growing of timber by the CCC program during the Depression years. There were eleven camps on the Kisatchie National Forest and one on the Alexander State Forest at Woodworth, which developed the state's first forest nursery. With the growth of the Louisiana Forestry Commission and its fine suppression work, young timber finally had some protection. The former CCC camp at Woodworth was developed into the central repair and maintenance shop, warehouse, training facility, and research area for the Louisiana Forestry Commission. The Louisiana Forestry Commission also administers a large recreation area built on the shores of the recently completed Indian Creek Lake.
Meanwhile the U.S. Forest Service was also introducing reforestation and fire protection on the vast Kisatchie lands, headquarters for which were originally located at Alexandria. Later the headquarters were moved to Pineville and became part of the U.S. Forest Service's large Forestry Center located across from the VA Hospital. Here branches of the U.S. Southern Forest Experiment Station conducted valuable research in the utilization, pests and disease, management, range control, fire, and direct seeding and reproduction of Southern pines. From these laboratories have come important discoveries that have added greatly to the economy of growing trees.
Another organization which has contributed significantly to the rebirth of timber in Rapides Parish is the Louisiana Forestry Association. This group of land mill owners, and forest-based employees have sponsored many important bills in the legislature which have benefited timber production.
Today the virgin stands have been replaced by the "second forest" and the public and industry are consciously striving to plan ahead for the "third forest" to meet future timber needs. Pineville Kraft Paper Company is one of the largest industries that has been built in Rapides Parish because of the good timber supply.
ANNA C. BURNS
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