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Farm and Forest History of Forestry Grandin Mill

The Mill at Grandin

Grandin MillLife in the Ozarks at the turn of the century was primitive in most places. But not in the town of Grandin. Grandin was a mill town. And not just any mill town. This company-owned lumber town hosted the biggest sawmill in the United States, for its time. 

The cities of the Midwest were growing fast, and founders of the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company had correctly anticipated the need for lumber to build them. They had soon worked out a way to harvest, process and ship the vast virgin pine forests of the deep eastern Ozarks. 

Established in 1897, the town of Grandin was named after the company's largest stockholder, E.B. Grandin. It was wholly owned by the company, which built homes to house its workers, stores to supply them, and churches, schools and hospitals to serve them. More than 475 small frame houses were built to hold families of various sizes. They rented for $1 per room per month. Many of them still stand. Large numbers of smaller, starker unpainted shacks to house single men were also built, and rented for $2 - $2.50 per month. Most of them have since crumbled into decay. Larger homes that housed company officials rented for $5 -$10 a month. Many of them are still standing. Single women were housed in company boarding houses, for which they paid $18 a month for a room and meals. 

By 1909 the great forests were gone, and in 1910 the company sold the cut-over land, and most of the town, and moved on. Grandin today is a small town of 235 inhabitants and a tourism destination for people interested in the history of forestry in Missouri. 

The Mill Operation

Over the course of the mill's operation, tram lines (temporary railway lines) were built out into the surrounding forests as far as Shannon County to move logs directly from forest to mill. Cut logs in the vast forests were loaded onto the tram cars and hauled to Toliver Pond, just outside of town. They remained in the pond for three or four days to soak off any dirt and debris that might dull or damage a saw blade. From there, the logs were guided onto a conveyor that lifted them from the pond and into the mill. 

There were two mills at Grandin--the big mill and the little mill. The big one held a circular saw, a band saw and a gang saw. In one operation, the gang saw could cut a log into a block and then turn it into dimension lumber. The big mill was powered by nine boilers that ran three giant steam engines. It produced 160,000 board feet a day. 

The little mill operated the same way as the big mill, but was powered by four boilers and one McDonough engine, and contained lath and shingle mills in addition to the saws. It produced 60,000 board feet of lumber, 48,000 feet of lath and 28,000 feet of shingles a day. 

The reason the mills' output was so great was that the trees were so large. Many of the logs coming to the mill from the ancient forests were nearly four feet in diameter. Smaller trees were considered a waste of time, and no trees less than 11 inches in diameter were ever taken to the mill. In the photo at right, the man holds a two-foot measuring stick up to two freshly milled boards. With a couple of inches to spare, the board he's measuring is estimated to be about 26 inches wide. 

Source: An tour guide of Grandin is available on the Missouri Department of Conservation  web site: http://www.conservation.state.mo.us/forest/cenfore/grandin.htm 
Written by Marideth Sisco, from material summarized or reprinted by permission. Photos from "American Lumberman" magazine, May 1903.