Article 1935, contributed by Clarence & Gladys Stroemer, Aug., 2004.
The Bay City Times - July 5, 1935
The fame and vigor of the lumbering industry which raised a string of sprawling, brawling sawmill towns to the present modern commercial community, Bay City, is officially drawing to a close.
Concrete evidence of this oft-asserted, and easily discernible trend can be found today in the demolition of the Ross and Wentworth lumber mill at Twenty-seventh and Water streets, last of the big sawmills of the Saginaw valley.
N.R. Wentworth, owner of the mill, said last week that many of the buildings on the mill site have been demolished or moved away, that all will be stuck in the future, and that the company is going out of business.
Exact Age Unknown
The exact age of the sprawling red painted wooden structures which once housed this once-bustling mill is not known, N.R. Wentworth said. He recalled that one of the first mills in this locality was started on this site in 1859 by Benjamin Partridge, who was followed in business by Dell McLean and son. Later Campbell and Brown company operated at this site and later continued under the name, Campbell Lumber Company.
Wentworth recalls that the present buildings which he is having torn down were standing when he first saw the mill in 1900 when it was operated by Campbell. In those days, the mill sawed logs by the thousands under contract with the firm of Ross and Wentworth, and in 1911 the later firm bought the mill and operated it itself.
The firm started as a partnership in 1900, and since the death of John C. Ross has been operated by Wentworth.
Stables built in 1912 by Ross and Wentworth to replace older ones have been torn down today, the long tramway which carried the cut lumber to the long drying yards, is gone, the boiler house has been demolished, a small part of the equipment of the lumber mill is gone, and the blacksmith shop has been demolished. All that is left are two office buildings, the sawmill plant proper, and a few sheds. These too, will be torn down, he said.
Last of Big Sawmills
When that is accomplished, the last of the big mills will be a thing of the past. A small amount of sawing is being done at the Island Lumber company mill on the Middle Grounds, operated by Watson and Richardson, and there is a small cicular mill operating at the Kneeland-Begelow flooring plant. That is all that is left of the once-flourishing sawmill industry in Bay City.
Wentworth recalled that mills line the Saginaw river from its mouth to the Tittabawassee river, when he first saw the industry here. He recalled that after the haleyon days of the lumber industry, after the embargo on Candian logs ruin the big lumber business in 1909, firms such as his dealt in lower Michigan timber of lower quality.
His firm, he said, bought 3,000 acres of timber in Crawford county in 1914, just prior to the World war. Other lots were purchased and the firm scoured the Upper Peninsula for select hemlock and white pine which was rated to Bay City in the summer to supplement the winter sawing of the lumber logged in the lower peninsula.
One of the largest rafts ever to reach this section came to the Ross and Wentworth mills about 1912, he said, operating under this policy. More than 4,250,000 foot of white pine logs were towed in a big raft to this port. Sawed in the Ross and Wentworth mill, these logs were sold mostly in Michigan, though some went to New England, the Pacific coast, and to the Southern states.
Later the firm bought approximately half of the timber land on the 44,000-acre Cockburn Island, at the mouth of Georgian Bay and logged there until 1930. Logs were brought here in the oil-burning Diesel steam, C.E. Redfern, after being loaded in the open lake at the island.
Following that time, Ross and Wentworth mill cut logs brought down from the company's lands in Crawford, Antrim, and Otsego counties until December 1935 -- and the last log was cut in the mill December 30, 1935.
Standing isolated and gaunt in the midst of the wreckage left from demolishing smaller buildings, the Ross and Wentworth mill is still a museum-piece example of the type of building in which many of Bay City's forefathers worked.
Along the river bank lies one of the famed "hot water pools," last in this section, in which hot water was poured in winter-time to keep open water for the process of bringing in the logs from the piles nearby.
Here the lumberjacks with pikes rode the logs into a trough where a iron-spiked car dragged them up an incline into the second floor of the plant. On the second floor may still be seen the immense steel carriage and set-works which bore the logs into the teeth of the singing band saws. Still in place are the edgers, which split the wood to raise the grain or stripped bark from the edges, trimming machines which cut boards from six to 20 feet long, conveyers which carried the lumber out onto a second-floor dock where it was sorted and trucked along the tramways high in the air to the piles or to flat cars.
On the third floor of the existing plant, may be found a filling room, heart of the sawmill. Here the artist of the mills, the filer who maintained saws at precise sharpness, worked. Still hanging on the walls are the giant band saws, implements of a dying industry, 50 feet six inches long and 11 inches wide.
In the Ross and Wentworth mill proper 11 men worked once, and at least 65 were need to operate it. In good times the plant ran 20 hours a day for six days of the week -- only one of the many bustling mills which made Bay City and which today are a thing of the past, passed by a community growing in other directions in the spirit of times.