The Florida Times - Union
Sunday, December 26, 1982
it's heydey, the Wilson Cypress Co. mill in Palatka was the largest
producer of red-heart tidewater cypress lumber in the world
© belongs to The Florida Times- Union
Sunday, December 26, 1982
| Historic Wilson Cypress|
liquidates remaining assets
By Hack Harper
Times-Union Staff Writer
|PALATKA---- One of the last rem-|
nants of the South's once roaring cy-
press lumber industry died Dec.10 at
the final liquidation of the remaining
assets of Wilson Cypress Co.
In its heyday, the cypress mill on
the St. Johns River at Palatka was
the largest producer of red-heart
tidewater cypress lumber in the
Cypress found in tropical swamps,
was the joy of home builders for its
lifetime resistance to rot and ter-
mites. Its harvest and sale was an
economic prime mover in Putnam
County and much of Florida for al-
most a century.
The Palatka mill really died Dec.5,
1944, during World War II when the
operation was shut and the liquida-
tion of it's assets began.
"There just was no more market-
able timber. We had cut it all," James
G. MacPherson II, chairman of the
board, said at the boards last meeting.
According to MacPherson, the last
assets of the company, mostly
subsurface-mineral rights on its vast
cutover cypress wetlands, were re-
turned to its stockholders in divid-
ends. Most of the surface land, more
than 100,000 acres in 10 Florida Co-
unties at one time, previously had been
sold, MacPherson said.
The last Board meeting was held in
the law offices of Kate Walton of Pa-
latka, who represented the company
after the death of her father, J.V.
Walton, loangtime company attorney.
MacPhearson of Vero Beach, said
|the company was formed Oct. 15,|
1891, as the Tilghman-Wilson Co.
The name was changed to Wilson Cypress
Co. April 3, 1895, he said.
Board members officiating at the
final meeting were decendants of
the original founders: Charles Corco-
ran, Amas Rust, Davis Rust, John
Rust, and James G. MacPherson
The board members present at the
Palatka meeting were Thomas W. Al-
ber, Tubae, Ariz.; Peter Corcoran,
Medina, Minn.; A. Rust Kessel, Lan-
sing, Mich.: Herbert Wilson, Palatka;
Ralph Wilson, Ft. Pierce; and Mac-
Glen Stephens, the company's
bookkeeper in its last years, also was
at the final meeting.
"It was a nostalgic thing. We just
put it out of existence by declaring
those final dividends. Wilson Cypress
Co. is no more,"Stephens said.
"I didn't know whether to laugh or
cry. You hate to see something like
that come to an end," said Herbert
Wilson, whose grandfather, A.E. Wil-
son, was credited with putting the
company together and bringing it to
The final liquidation of Wilson's
brought back memories to the older
generation of Palatkans who knew
firsthand what the company had
meant to the town.
Alton Brown, a center on the Uni-
versity of Florida football team in the
1930's was sitting in a pickup truck
watching a barge operator dredge up
old cypress pilings in the river near
the city dock.
The casual passer-by did not know
|that the cypress posts were still valu-|
able as building lumber even after all
those years in the river bottom.
"That mill gave me my first job after
I got out of College when, like a lot
of other people, I was starving." said
Brown. a retired Army Colonel.
Roy Daugherty, Palatka's 77-year-
old retired fire chief, said the mill
"raised" him. He worked there from
1907 to 1945 as a lumber inspector.
Dougherty said goverment regu-
lation of lumber prices during the
war and the difficulty of getting men
to work hip-deep in the swamps to get
the timber out helped bring about the
closing of the mill.
He said the mill had the first cy-
press dry kiln ever made. The kiln
was a large ovenlike building where
lumber was dried before shipping.
Dougherty said the gang saw and
two band saws could cut an average
of 120,000 board feet (one foot square
and one inch thick) of cypress lumber a
He remebered the fire Jan. 23,
1929, that destroyed the mill.
"We never knew what started it al-
though we suspected in was a hotbox
containing electrical wiring in the
saw mill," Dougherty said.
Dougherty remebered that his
oldest brother, Billy, was a member
of the Palaka Fire Department when
the mill burned the first time, some-
time before World War I.
"He got his coattail singed on that
one," Dougherty said.
Other Palatkans remembered the
fires too. Herbert Wilson said he was
playing when he saw the flames and
smoke and ran to the location on River Street.
"Howard Gardner Sr. sent me
home. He said it was no place for a
boy to be," Wilson Said.
H.N. "Ham" King 83, Chief electri-
cian at the mill for 23 years, remem-
bered some of the old names of the
men who did daily work at the
Bob Respress was the sawyer, the
(Finished on Page D-9)
|key man who ran the huge saw that sliced the cypress logs to size. Sam Rankin was the sawmill foreman and sometimes sawyer.|
Captain Leon Rodda pushed the long rafts of logs on the river to the mill in the
converted ocean tug The Homer, an old steamboat that was converted to diesel.
Charlie Grimm was superintendent of the sawmill. Joe Tarver bossed the planing mill, and B.K. Harper was superintendent of the shipping department and lumber yard.
D.K. Clippinger was the company bookkeeper.
Wilson Cypress Co. spawned other allied industries in Palatka in the early days.
Selden's Sash and Door Co. was across River Street. The company made and sold cypress blinds and doors.
Davis Tank Factory, owned by G.M. Davis and sons, occupied a whold block across the street from what is now the Campbell school headquarters building.
Davis tanks made cypress water tanks for the railroads until they converted from steam to diesel.
King remebered trying to plant a cypress tree in the small garden in front of the headquarters office building at the mill.
"Me and Sam Rankin could never get it to grow. Then one day after we had forgotten about it a little plant started coming up. Sam said it was a cypress tree that germinated on its own. It's a big cypress now," King said.
The story has a point.
Mark Meador of the Division of Forestry said the biggest problem in replanting cypree forests is that they must be hand planted in swampy bay heads where they grow.
"No machinery or technology has ever been developed to regerminate cypress trees," Meador said.
He said that cypress will grow about as fast as slash pine, one of the mainstays of the southern forest industry and known for its rapid growth.
" It's not the slow growth so much as it is the terrain in which they grow," Meador said.
Florida's cypress forests have just about been cut out. Meador said. There are some
virgin stands spotted around the state, but not enough for a commercial operation although some sawmills still cut what is left, he said
The Apalachicola Forest in the Panhandle have some large cypress stands left, but even the treesin the Big Cypress Swamp in Southeast Florida are second growth, Meador said. The paper industry,
which uses pine trees that are easily reforested, has replaced cypress in the state's economy, Meador said.
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