Vredenburg Searcher Vol. 3, No. 2 & Vol. 3, No. 3. Fall 1995, p. 8 - 9

[Note: The following two articles are most likely from the Monroe County (Alabama) Journal, from a reference in the second article it was written in 1966. Several lines and sentences are directly copied between the two articles, I do not have a complete copy of the second article, if you do I'd like to get it]

Peter Vredenburgh Began Town, Sawmill.

By Sue F. Turner

Vredenburgh Sawmill Co. reached a maximum cut of 50 million board feet of lumber in a year through the use of common labor paid on dollar a day for a period of about 26 years. This common labor made up approximately 80 percent of the payroll.

Peter Vredenburgh, Jr., on of four sons of the Senior Vredenburgh, was a native of Springfield, Ill., who had established and managed a sawmill at Pine Hill before coming to Monroe County. He started the construction of the plant and mill village at Vredenburgh in 1910 and operations in 1912.

Mr. Vredenburgh's success is attributed to his ability as organizer and manager and his employment of the best men available as heads of departments: logging superintendent, land agent, purchasing agent and sales manager.

R. H. Cobb, now a resident of Camden, was logging superintendent until 1943. He went to Vredenburgh

from college in 1913 for the purpose of playing on the company baseball team during the summer vacation.

Much of the information here is given by Mr. Cobb and my husband, Charlie W. Turner, who was with the company form about 1922 to 1932 as purchasing agent and in the sales department.

In 1910 construction was started by the L&N Railroad on a eight mile track from the main line at Corduroy, west to the mill site. This new track passed with a mile of the village of Buena Vista (pioneered a hundred years before) and Mr. Vredenburgh stayed in the home of O. B. Finklea, my father, in the village as he supervised the building of his town.

200 Acres of Land

The plant and mill village were laid out on 200 acres of timberland, much of it virgin pine. Residential streets curved through uncut forests in a picturesque, sprawling design. Houses were built for employees of products from the land rough lumber for exteriors painted red or green with white trim; interiors of tongue and groove dressed lumber. These houses, neat and attractive, rented for a nominal sum with company generated electricity and town well water furnished free.

The Vredenburgh's home was larger, painted white and on the highest point in the dead end street. This home overlooked the point to the west. A board walk from near this home passes a 2-storied hotel (that housed 22 bachelor employees at one time), down the hill to e commissary, office building, and doctor's office, where Dr. E. R. Cannon was company physician.

This walk was about five feet wide and several feet above the ground and served as a loading platform for the train at the commissary. A siding of the railroad branched off in a northwesterly direction to the lumber sheds, the planer mill and the sawmill to the pond where logs were unloaded.

Houses Built

The houses for the Negro laborers were built west of the plant. A church and school were built for their use.

The children of the white employees went to school in a building east of the village. There were 10 grades taught in the school by six or seven teachers. This building was used as a church on Sunday with three denominations taking turns: Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian.

Recreation was provided in the early years mainly at the enclosed ball park. R. H. "Ty" Cobb was there for the first Fourth of July celebration in 1914.

He says, "There was a picnic lunch served at noon, a baseball game in the afternoon and a dance that night with a good Negro string band".

The baseball team was made up mainly of college men on summer vacation who were sometimes put on the company payroll in order to keep their amateur standing. Competition was keen among the saw mills around the country.

Mr. Vredenburgh's enthusiasm was evident in a game scheduled with T. R. Miller Mill Co. The game was a tie in the ninth inning when he called his team together and said, "Win this game for me and the team gets a week's vacation in Point Clear." Cobb remembers it was his lucky day - he hit the home run that on the game.

Some of these men who went to the big leagues were Grant Gillis, Sut Jenkins and Sam Barnes. Woody Parks, a pitcher, is now vice president of First National Bank of Montgomery.

Leased Land

Vredenburgh leased land rather tan bought it up to about 1925. The leases were long-term and the lands were stripped during he cut. Reforestation started in 1925 when it was realized the growth of timber in the area wouldn't last forever Cobb recalls a figure of 90,000 acres acquired while he was there . B. B. Finkles of Monroeville was land agent following W. J. Landrum, Sr.

Common labor did the back-breaking work of getting the logs out of the woods. Logging camps were set up at the timber sites; the men lived in section houses moved to the sites on flat cars.

Railroads were built to the timber lands by the company. Tracks were run through the timberlands and spur tracks run into the rough terrain.

A machine called a skidder was carried on a flat can on the railroad to the woods. This skidder reached out a quarter of a mile from the tracks to "snake" logs out of the woods with cables.

A loader on a flat car at the timber site loaded logs on the train's 18 to 20 flat cars. A gear-type engine called a "crawler" ran on the spur tracks into the roughest country. It carries one or two flat cars on which logs were loaded.

In the woods, mules and oxen dragged the logs within reach of the machines on the tracks. The oxen numbered about 375 when they were sold in 1923, according to Mr. Cobb. The heaviest mules bought for use in the woods weighed 2000 pounds.

There were 14 locomotives used at the mill and in the woods at one time. The last locomotive bought was Number Sixteen.

The sawmill ran 11 1/2 hours a day from 5:30 to 11:30 a.m. and from 12:10 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Saturday the mill shut down at 3:30. The whistle blew firs at 4:30 every weekday morning to wake the women to get the men ready for work. It continued to blow at 15 minute intervals until work started. The only holiday, besides Sunday, was on Christmas Eve when the men got off at 3:30 p.m. and resumed working the day after Christmas.

A company issued money, called "Brozine", was used at the commissary and circulated generally through the area. It was prohibited by the wage and hour law of 1936. It is said that the company then paid the laborers in silver dollars so that the weight in their pockets would be a reminder to trade at the commissary.

The big mill burned on Feb. 2, 1920, at 8 a.m., according to my grandmother's well kept diary. The flames and smoke lighted the village of Buena Vista.

At the time another mill was under construction. The big mill had been operating a double shift night and day for some time before it burned . At the time the plant was averaging about 36 million board feet a year with a maximum out of 90 million feet in one year.

Construction was resumed on this second mill and a third was started. In 1932 tow mills were operating double shifts. These new mills were steam fed mills from Filer and Stowell. They were built exactly alike with all parts interchangeable. There was a planer mill with six planer machines in dress the lumber, a battery of dry kilns; lumber sheds for rough and dressed lumber.

About 1925 Peter Vredenburgh Jr., turner over the operation to his sons, Peter, III, and Sellers. Sellers became president. These young men had been sent to Wright's in Mobile; then Sellers went to Yale forestry school and Peter, III, to University of Alabama for a short time. (Peter, III's, mother fondly told the story of her son as a child: "I can't raise chickens, she said, because Peter wrings the necks of the biddies."

Sellers began a reforestation program that his father had contemplated. Mr. Peter, Jr., had lost a lawsuit to Sanford McMurphy caused by sparks from logging locomotives setting fire to Mr. McMurphy's adjoining land.

After the suit was settled McMurphy gave him advice on how to selectively cut the woodlands. Mr. Vredenburgh seemed to realize for the first time that the forests wouldn't last as long as he wanted to cut.

Peter, III, began to work toward the quality of lumber that became Vredenburgh's trace mark. He and Charlie Turner traveled over the country visiting other mills to see what was being cut and to concentrate on the needs of the retail lumber yards.

To conserve the lands, and for the economy, the double shift at he mill was discontinued and the company began to buy lands instead of leasing them.

The 1929 Crash

The crash of 1929 slowed down the operation further. Salaries were slashed and men laid off. Number two common boards were selling for $7.00 per thousand while today the marked price is $26 (?) to $XX (?).

The wage hour law was passed in 1936 (according to the encyclopedia). Common labor wages climbed from a dollar a day of 11 1/2 hours to $1.92 a day for eight hours. Mr. Cobb says the same amount of work was done at the mill and logging camps as had been done with the longer workday.

Colorful Character

Many stories are told of the colorful days of Peter Vredenburgh, Jr. I remember him as a portly man, well dressed and always with a derby and cane. He never lost his mid-west accent and always seemed foreign to Alabama.

He returned from a trip to Spain one year and brought home a foreign car and a uniformed chauffeur. Horses in the fields shied at this strange vehicle with the open drive's seat and Mr. Vredenburgh sitting in splendor in the glass-enclosed rear with a speaking tube to direct the chauffeur. As one farmer said, "That car was so long it had to be backed up to get around the curves". The roads were narrow and rutted.

It was said that Mr. Vredenburgh would gamble on anything. In a story of the 1913 era he went with his ball team from to Pensacola. At the ball park he passes a peanut - popcorn vendor with a push cart who said, "I'll bet the Pensacola team wins".

Mr. Vredenburgh offered to bet him $200 the Vredenburgh team would win but the vendor had no cash. Mr. Vredenburgh offered $200 cash against the cart and supplies. When the Vredenburgh team won the game, the peanut cart was carried to the San Carlos Hotel and one of Mr. Vredenburgh's ever-present servants was ordered to stand at the street corner to sell the wares.

Before he left Pensacola the next day the cart plus $100 were returned to the vendor.

Photos Captions:

Sawmill No 3. - Sawmill No. 3 built in 1920 -21, burned in 1962. The supply houses and machine shop are at left and the pond to float logs in background.

Commissary Offices - Constricted in 1910, the large building is the commissary with doctor's office in the foreground. Lumber sheds are to the left.

Some of the Mills . - Some of the first buildings of the Vredenburgh Sawmill Co., built in 1910 - 1912, are the shed for rough lumber, foreground planer mill, center, and dressed sheds, far right.

Vredenburgh Searcher Fall 1995, p. 9

Never Say Die Spirit of Vredenburgh

By Merrill Bankester

Never say die - a phrase that could very easily fit the town of Vredenburgh.

For after two major disasters, Vredenburgh has managed to fight back and today is bristling with activity by people who take pride in their town and the appearance that the North Monroe County town reflects.

Built as a mill town in 1910, today, 56 years later, Vredenburgh is still a mill town. It was incorporated in 1912. Lee Thomas, who has lived there for the past 43 years, serves as major and business leader.

Another person who can recall much of the history of Vredenburgh is Mrs. Alma Cardwell, who is the oldest, in terms of residence, person in Vredenburgh.

"Miss Alma", a widow, has been living in Vredenburgh since 1917. She began work at the mill's post office in 1923 and was appointed postmaster by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, a position she continues to hold.

Peter Vredenburgh, Jr., a native of Springfield, Ill., began building the village of Vredenburgh in 1910 and the lumber mill, which was and still is the village's sole industry, began operation in 1912.

Mr. Vredenburgh had established and managed a sawmill at Pine Hill before coming to Monroe County.

Town is Laid Out

The plant and village, which was to be known as Vredenburgh, was laid out on about 200 acres of timberland, much of it virgin pine. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which still served the mill, built a track to where the town was being built from the main track at Corduroy, about four miles away.

The residential streets of the neophyte village curved through the uncut forests of the area, houses were built by Vredenburgh for employees of the mill and were rented for a nominal sum with the company generated electricity and town well water furnished free.

The exteriors of these houses were red or gray with white trim. And a trip today through the town of Vredenburgh will show a bright, fresh look of red and green with trim on these same houses.

Mr. Vredenburgh's home was larger than the workers' houses and was painted white. It was built on the highest point in the town at a dead end street. The home overlooked the plant to the west and a board walk from the house passed a two-story hotel, which quartered the bachelors in the village, to the commissary, post office, mill offices and the plant doctor'' office, all housed in one large building.

Houses were also built for the Negro laborers west of the plant, along with a church and school.

There was a 10-grade school for the white children east of the village. The school building was also used a s a church on Sunday with three denominations - Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian - taking turns using the school

First Disaster

The first disaster struck the town on the morning of Feb. 1, 1920, when a fire, a dread fear of sawmills, razed the plant.

At the time of the fire, thought, another mill was under construction, so rather than say quit, construction was rushed on this second mill and another one started. In 1922 both the new mills were operating on double shifts.

The two mills were then modern plants, there steam - fed band mill types.

About 1925, Mr. Vredenburgh turned over the operation of the mill to his sons, Peter, III, and Sellers, who became president.

It was in 1925 that the mill owners decided to buy timberland for the mill. Up until that time, Peter Vredenburgh, Jr., had always leased timberland rather than buy it.

During that same year, a reforestation program was started by Sellers, and Peter, III, began work to up-grade the quality of lumber produced at the plant. The company acquired 90,000 acres of timberland for its use.

But the operation of the mill slowed down in 1929 due to the beginning of the depression and several men were laid off and others had their salaries cut.

Then more disaster befell the town in 1931. Fire once again did the damage but this time only to the commissary, post office, doctor's office and the mill offices.

The mill office, which is only part of the building left standing. A new commissary was built across the street from its original structure and the post office was erected in the center of the residential section. Both of these buildings are still in use today.

Fire of 1962

The second major disaster which almost spelled doom for the town came on April 22, 1962, when a fire once again destroyed the sawmill.

The mill, life - blood of the town's economy, remained idle until Jan. 4, 1965, when a corporation in Georgia, which had purchased the mill and town in 1963, opened it once again.

The "new" corporation, formed as the Vredenburgh Saw Mill Co., had bought the town including the 237 houses for the town, and there rights to the timber, which had increased to 104,000 acres.

This marked the first time that the mill and town had been completely out of the Vredenburgh family.

Lou Thomas was named general superintendent of the mill by the new corporation.

At the time of the fire in 1962, Vredenburgh had a population of about 700. But being without work from the time the fire struck until operation began again in 1965, a period of about 2 1/2 years, many of the residents moved away seeking employment in other communities. Town officials estimate that about 200 persons moved from the town looking for other work.

The town itself took on a ghost town atmosphere, houses fell into disrepair and some were boarded up, the commissary, once the center of activity, remained open but (Con't on Next Page) [I do not have the rest of the article]

Photo Captions :

Street Scenes - The top street scene is how the main street in Vredenburgh looked years ago before it was paved. The same street is show in the bottom photo, with the poles removed from the center of the street and the souses freshly painted. - Journal photo

The first house - The first house in Vredenburgh is still in use. The house is located next to the Vredenburgh Post Office and is presently occupied. - Journal photo.

Office Building - A fire destroyed the commissary, doctor's office and post office years ago. The only part of the building left standing was the part which is still being used as the sawmill office. - Journal photo


HOME