- 1 The Story So Far
- 2 The Pennsylvania Years
- 3 Bay City and Essexville: Edwin Carrier’s Decade (or so) on the Shores of Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay
- 4 From Michigan to Western North Carolina
- 5 References
The Story So Far
Edwin Carrier was born in 1839, so he was in his late forties when he arrived in Western North Carolina (probably in 1885). Early discussions of his life before Asheville said almost nothing about it before then. Arthur’s Western North Carolina (1914) said only that he “came from Michigan,” and Sondley’s Asheville and Buncombe County (1922) doesn’t mention him. Neither the recent Dictionary of North Carolina Biography nor NCpedia offers anything.
In her 2007 history of Asheville, Nan K. Chase paid extensive attention to the quartet of wealthy developer “giants” (George W. Vanderbilt, George W. Pack, Frank Coxe and E. W. Grove) who have loomed large in popular accounts and iconography.
But in a half-dozen early lines about West Asheville, Chase also notes that the “phantom presence of a fifth major city-builder of this time, the Northern lumberman Edwin George Carrier (1839-1927), hovers about the scene.” She says that he came to Asheville with his “lumber fortune,” that he may have sold Jersey cows to George Vanderbilt for his showcase herd, and that he built a horse-racing track on the banks of the French Broad. But the phantom continues to hover pretty much as a phantom.
Carrier gets somewhat more extensive treatment in Harshaw’s Asheville: Mountain Majesty (published in 2007, as was Chase’s). He was “engaged in a very successful lumber business” in Michigan, she says, but Michigan receives no further attention. The rest is about his building a hotel on the long-abandoned site of Deaver’s Sulphur Springs (see previous post), his early agricultural experiments, his West Asheville and Sulphur Springs Railway and early hydroelectric dam on Hominy Creek, and his various development projects in and around West Asheville, including the race track. One wishes to know more, but at least Harshaw’s Carrier emerges as more than “a phantom presence.”
My hope here is to give some substance to the phantom Edwin Carrier’s pre-Asheville years.
In this quest I have been aided greatly by digitized materials not available to Chase and Harshaw at the time they wrote: millions of pages of newspapers, census schedules and genealogical materials, early city directories, some websites that offer their own digital resources, and early books and other early print materials previously accessible (if at all) only through inter-library loan, but now online at HathiTrust Digital Library, Google Books, and elsewhere.
I have not found everything I had hoped for, but a great deal nevertheless. I invite you to join me.
Like the much better known Vanderbilt, Coxe, Grove, and Pack, Carrier came to West Asheville from somewhere specific, with some specific personal history and experience that had shaped and motivated him in certain ways. Neither “Northern lumberman” nor Michigan “lumber business” gives us any idea of how he would have been disposed to see and deal with West Asheville in the late 1880s and early 1890s–as all of the few commentators agree that he did (albeit in a very un-phantomlike way).
The Pennsylvania Years
Biographical details on Edwin George Carrier before about 1885 are few, not easy to come by. But they do indicate that he spent the first thirty-five or so years of his life not in Michigan but in Pennsylvania.
The 1850 census says he was born in 1839 to Darius Carrier and Elizabeth Hetrick in Jefferson County’s Clover Township. He had four brothers (Nathan, John, Stewart [?],and Cassius) and three sisters (Lucinda, Elizabeth and Martha). Darius’s occupation was listed as “lumbering,” and Nathan and John were working as clerks. The 1870 census offers nothing on Edwin, although his name turns up on a December 19, 1864 list of Civil War draftees from Jefferson County’s Clover Township. His brother John and family were still listed in the Clover Township census.
I did not find Edwin in the census again until 1880, by which time he was in Bay City, Michigan, would have been forty-one years old, and had six children.
But what was Edwin Carrier doing in Pennsylvania during those thirty or so years? No personal or family records that might help with this question have come to my attention. Fortunately, an 1888 history of Jefferson County fills in other bits of the extended Carrier family’s story there–especially in Clover Township, where many of them were situated.
Unfortunately, since this history does not make family lineages clear, I have to assume that during the relevant years, the relatively small county population (just over 18,000 in
1860, making it one of the state’s dozen or so smallest counties) made it likely that the Carriers–even if not closely related–were aware of each others’ activities. Tellingly, 120 of them are buried in the Carrier family cemetery (and in several others close by) in and around the Clover Township borough of Summerville (population 348 in 1870) and Brookville (pop. 1942).
So let’s take a look at Jefferson County and see what inferences can be drawn.
Jefferson County got its first white settlers in the mid-1790s, and Clover Township began to be settled by whites shortly before 1820. Among early arrivals were the first Carriers–mostly Methodists, with first names (Darius, Nathan, Hiram, John, Euphrastus) perennially familiar thereafter.
As the decades passed, some served in the Civil War (a Nathan D. Carrier died in it), some ascended to elected office, and a few achieved social prominence. Darius became a County Commissioner in 1863, and Nathan (possibly Edwin’s older brother) was elected Sheriff in 1869. By 1887, four Carriers were Clover Township officers.
A primary occupation, for the Carriers as well as many others, was the lumber business. Ever since a mill was built on Mill Creek in 1795, the county history says, “lumbering has been the principal occupation of her citizens.”
In 1865, John Carrier (Edwin’s older brother, it seems likely) built a steam mill on Big Mill Creek. Nathan (likely Edwin’s older brother, or perhaps a cousin) was a partner in a firm “which in one year (about 1866) ran over one hundred rafts of pine timber [out of about 2,000] down the river. ” He was also a partner in the Carrier & Scott lumber company, and part-owner of a hotel. “E. G. and C. M.” Carrier (otherwise unidentified, but E. G. could have been our Edwin G.) built a mill on Buzzard Creek (on the opposite side of the county) in 1874. Until the railroad came (1874), many Clover men also worked as (well-paid) raft pilots, guiding huge rafts of logs down the rivers to market.
As everywhere else, the Jefferson County historian says, local timber was taken out by means “wanton . . . ruthless . . . [and] wasteful in the extreme.” By the late 1880s, when the book was published, few of the “mighty monarchs” remained. Most of the mills had shut down, but two were still operating, and one of them was a Carrier mill.
Having been involved in lumbering for generations, the Carriers were not immune to these judgments. In 1854, teenage Edwin’s father Darius was named a Commissioner of the Red Bank Navigation Company in the legislative act
that authorized formation of the company, and gave it permission to do whatever it considered necessary to get the timber out: clear and dredge creeks and rivers, erect and regulate dams and locks, control water flow, and collect tolls. The company was formed in 1856, and Carriers (including Nathan, Jr.) continued to be involved until 1882.
Fortunately there was brighter side of their activities in Jefferson County across the generations: they contributed toward and helped develop a number of progressive enterprises and organizations. In the 1820s, the earliest Darius Carrier offered his home as a temporary meeting place for the newly organized Methodist Church. Such involvements turn out to shed light on Edwin Carrier’s later activities and involvements in western North Carolina.
For about two decades during the Civil War era, Nathan Carrier co-owned the American Hotel (originally a temperance hotel). There was also a Carrier Hotel in Troy during the early 1860s. Nathan also engaged in scientific stock breeding, as did several other Carriers.
A key figure in Clover Township, Albert Ackley (A. A., he seems to have been called) Carrier was ten years older than Edwin. He sired fifteen children (the last three by a second wife when he was in his sixties), meanwhile working as (of course) a lumberman, developing a model farm and giving back to his community in a variety of ways:
He has introduced the very best labor saving farm machinery, and . . . [developed] a creamery with Cooley creamers, for twenty cows, the churning being done by steam power [from a three hundred dollar steam engine that also powered other machinery, noted another source]. He has the reputation of furnishing some of the best butter in the county . . . . .
Mr. Carrier is one of those public spirited men who aid in every good work in their neighborhoods, and it is greatly owing to his generous assistance that the Webster Literary Society was able to erect their pleasant and commodious lyceum building in 1881.
He also done much towards the organization of the “Twin Sister” brass band, [named] for his twin daughters . . . who for some time were the leaders of this, one of the best bands in the county, they both being accomplished cornet players.
The pleasant home of Mr. Carrier at Mount Pleasant is noted for its hospitality, and the jovial host is always ready to entertain his friends there.
Such efforts and involvements were not at all atypical of the Carriers. As early as 1867, several members of the family contributed lumber and $6,000 when the Erie Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church moved to found the coeducational Carrier Seminary of Western Pennsylvania. The infusion of state funds led to general optimism and a major
building effort, but financial and enrollment stability never were achieved. Compromised by the penuriousness of the Methodist Church, the seminary closed in 1886, and its dilapidated facilities passed to Clarion State Normal School.
Other Carriers were involved in the Grange (Order of the Patrons of Husbandry). Founded in 1867, the Grange sought to improve farm life and the working and business conditions of farmers. It opposed profiteering middlemen, high tariffs and freight rates, and other exploitative practices. It helped organize farmers’ cooperatives, provided mutual insurance, distributed stock reports, operated flour mills, and manufactured farm machinery. At its peak, there were 1.5 million members.
Toward the end of the century, notes a biographical volume on the county, Edwin’s father Darius was also “a leader in community affairs, working to turn Summerville into a prohibition town.”
All in all, then, the Jefferson County Carriers appear to have been well represented on the progressive side of their communities. But what about Edwin Carrier’s Michigan years–and those of his elder brother John (b. 1833), who appears to have preceded him in moving there? When did they move, to exactly where in Michigan, and at what developmental moment? How long did Edwin stay in Michigan before moving on to West Asheville? Why did he choose to go there, and to go when he did?
Bay City and Essexville: Edwin Carrier’s Decade (or so) on the Shores of Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay
I was born in Saginaw, Michigan.
I grew up in a house on Saginaw Bay.
My dad was a poor hard working Saginaw fisherman:
Too many times he came home with too little pay.
I loved a girl in Saginaw, Michigan.
The daughter of a wealthy, wealthy man.
But he called me: “That son of a Saginaw fisherman.”
And not good enough to claim his daughter’s hand.
In 1964, Lefty Frizzell scored a #1 country hit with Bill Anderson’s “Saginaw Michigan.” It was about “a poor hard working Saginaw fisherman” rather than a shantyboy or sawmill worker in the lumber industry, but for our purposes it usefully evokes the class differences and prejudices that also characterized the Saginaw Valley lumber industry eighty or so years earlier.
A great deal has been written about the lumber industry on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, particularly with regard to the Saginaw River and its tributaries and the cities that developed along their banks.
Fortunately, that area is the subject of Jeremy Kilar’s Michigan’s Lumbertowns: Lumbermen and Laborers in Saginaw, Bay City, and Muskegon, 1870-1905 (1990) [full disclosure: brought to my attention by my ever-resourceful historian wife Anne Mitchell Whisnant]. My treatment of lumbering on the Lower Peninsula–particularly around Bay City and Essexville (where Edwin Carrier took up residence)–is drawn mostly from Kilar, with additions from several local histories from the period, city directories, and the like. In what follows, if I do not cite a different source, most likely I am drawing upon Kilar.
When French traveler Alexis de Toqueville visited the Saginaw area in 1831, Kilar says, he found about thirty residents huddled in four or five log cabins–“an opening seed,” he called it, “thrown upon the desert.” Until about that time, most lumber had come from Maine, Pennsylvania, and upstate New York, but after the Panic of 1837 (the year Michigan joined the union), the Lower Peninsula began to attract eastern timber buyers.
A decade later, when the upstate New York timber supply dwindled, Michigan pine began turning up in eastern and mid-western markets. By 1855, Kilar says, Saginaw City was growing steadily, and steamboats were plying the Saginaw. Four years later, nearby Bay City (pop. 700, with fourteen sawmills) was incorporated.
Paradoxically, the Civil War proved to be the great developmental impetus of mid-century. The western shore of Lake Huron was remote from any military actions, but the war-induced demand for lumber spurred the industry rapidly. Michigan emerged from the conflict producing more lumber than any other state, and the Bay City area was an important node of that production. Population, only about 700 before the war, surged to 7,000 by 1868. Just after the war, according to The History of the Lake Huron Shore (1883) the first stirrings of the allied (burning sawmill waste to heat brine evaporation pans or kettles) salt industry emerged.
Kilar’s synopsis of this brief and frenzied industrial and social history is key to understanding the Carriers’ involvement: It was a one-generation (1870-1890), rapid and “highly competitive” phenomenon, during which “all the trees were cut,” and lumbermen fought their exploited workers’ strikes while watching the timber disappear.
First to experience the boom (in about 1882) and the bust were two cities along the Saginaw River (Saginaw and Bay City) and Muskegon on the west side of the peninsula. There the giant white pine logs (some from trees two to seven feet in diameter and 175 feet high) from an eighty-mile long belt along the Tittabawassee River (“the best pine in the state”) were brought for processing and shipment by water or rail.
The industry, Kilar emphasizes, was seasonal, exploitative, unregulated and unstable, and production was erratic. But there were fortunes to be made, and many set about trying to do it. Among them were John and Edwin Carrier.
I will return to this narrative in a bit more detail later, but for the moment, the Carriers’ involvement in it:
The Carriers on the Saginaw
Raised in a family of lumbermen and working in Pennsylvania’s older lumber industry after the war, the Carriers could hardly have been unaware of these exciting dynamics on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. They knew a window had opened, but probably would not have known that it would remain open for such a short time.
When either Edwin Carrier or his older brother John–or both–actually moved to the western shore of Lake Huron is not clear. The earliest Bay City directory I have seen (1868-69) lists no Carriers, and the 1870 Jefferson County PA census lists John as still living in Clover Township, but does not include Edwin.
The 1871-72 Bay City directory lists John Carrier & Co. (and dozens of its workers) in the downriver town of Essexville. It does not list Carrier himself, however, and neither he nor Edwin is included as a named principal of the company.
A decade later, The History of the Lake Huron Shore (1883) listed Carrier & Co. as the largest of three mills in Essexville, and says it opened in 1868. “Edwin G. Carrier, of the firm of Carrier and Co.,” it added, “was born in Jefferson County, Pa., . . . [in] 1839, where he remained until 1877, engaged in lumbering. He then moved to Bay City, where he again engaged in the lumber business . . . .” Bolstering this account, the 1875 Essexville directory lists Edwin as still living in Brookville PA (in Rose Township, adjacent to Clover). In the directories for 1877-1883, his residence is listed as Bay City, and he was President of Carrier & Company. John is no longer in evidence.
Taken together, this rather fragmentary evidence suggests that John Carrier was boarding or living in Bay City for maybe a decade (beginning perhaps as early as 1867, but probably after 1870), and Edwin arrived and began to take over the mill a decade or so later. Having done so, what kind of situation would he have found himself in as a lumberman in the Bay County industry? And more particularly, how might he have been shaped by his experience there by the time he moved to western North Carolina in 1885 and began buying land (as I will show in my next post)?
Edwin Carrier as an individual is, so far as I have able to determine, absent from the published record on the industry. But that well-developed record allows one to talk with considerable confidence about the probabilities.
The Bay County Lumber Industry
In July 1872, the first issue of The Lumberman’s Gazette of Saginaw and Bay City (pop. 8,500, said the directory) trumpeted the size and manifold dimensions of the industry. Clearly, lumbering was far bigger, more vertically integrated (including cutting the trees, building the processing machinery, milling finished wood, and marketing and shipping) and more technologically advanced in Bay County than in it had been back home in Jefferson County.
What emerged as the Carrier Company was centered in Bay City and nearby Essexville, but numerous other towns in the area were involved as well.
Key to the industry’s development was infrastructure: pile driving, bridge and dock building, installing gas and water pipe, and building transportation connections to surrounding production centers and markets: nearby Portsmouth, Saginaw, Wenona, Bangor, Salzburg, and as far away as Chicago.
Steam ferries, tugs, barges operated regularly on the Saginaw River and eastward across the bay. The Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw Railroad advertised connections from the Saginaw Valley to “all points within the interior of Michigan, Ohio & Indiana.” Closer by, from 1865, Bay City’s street railway, powered by dummy (stationary) engines at night and by horses during the day, hauled mill products along six miles of shoreline, and passengers in and out of town.
Two bird’s eye views of Bay City from 1867 (one of the upriver end, and one of the downriver end) offer wonderful detail (click for much larger views):
For Saginaw at the same time, click here.
Beyond 1867, the lumber industry continued to develop and expand, and production increased dramatically. At the same time, costs to build and equip a sawmill kept going up in relation to output. To reduce that ratio, machinery had to be improved. Fortunately, Kilar says, ” ‘The mills . . . attracted men who worked with machines . . . [as well as] others who sought to improve the machinery that they worked with.” More often than not, those improvements had to do with sawing.
Circular saws had come into use in the late 18th century, eventually replacing many of the earlier reciprocating (“pit”) straight saws. But both remained in use for decades, as this Munn & Company advertisement indicates. Whichever saws or other machines were used, “ganging” increased efficiency. The gang saw, Kilar says, was “the monstrous giant of the mills,” and the John Carrier & Company advertised (above) “Gang Sawed Lumber.”
The latest machinery (ganged or not) standardized dimensioned lumber, siding, ceiling, window frames,moldings and the like, while speeding production and reducing labor costs. A gang edger produced lumber surfaced on all four sides (S4S).
Small wooden slats called laths were nailed to wall studs as a base for plaster. Since they were used in vast numbers and needed to be made and sold at low cost, machinery to do so was in great demand.
Even within local river and bay towns, elegant residential construction–e.g., Albert Miller’s Bay City house in the illustration below–required large volumes of lathing and milled lumber.
Saginaw River and Lake Huron transportation facilitated and stimulated the development of the industry, connecting downriver and bay-shore lumbering towns with distant sources of supply and markets for finished goods. By the mid-1880s, Bay City was moving into shipbuilding as well.
Modernization, Class Divisions and Conflict, and Social Decay
Technological modernization was a more or less unalloyed success story. But the durability of the industry depended upon far more than technology. The rising industrial wave spurred social and economic development in and around the river and bay shore towns.
Elegant homes (such as the Albert Miller home above) proliferated, and large modern hotels catered to the commercial trade. The four-story Fraser House, opened before 1868 as “indisputably the best finished hotel throughout in the Saginaw valley,” was a combination boarding house (one of perhaps a dozen in town) and commercial hotel. Consumer goods of many grades were also available in abundance.
Clearly the upper-class lumbermen and professionals and their families were doing just fine, but even with steadily improving machinery, it took a lot of labor to man the lumber camps and run the mills. And the cheaper the labor, the better.
At various periods after mid-century, Kilar explains, large numbers of immigrants of various nationalities and cultures (French Canadians first, followed by Dutch, Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, and Poles) flowed into the Lower Peninsula looking for jobs, mainly in fishing and lumbering.
These new laborers channeled themselves into one or more of the three cities, each of which developed its own “residential ethic segregation.” Bay City had Frenchtown, and Muskegon’s French lived in Pickettown. Bay City’s Salzburg area was 66% German. Most of the Dutch went to Muskegon’s Dutch Town, and the city also received many Swedes and Norwegians.
Similar patterns multiplied over the years, and changing conditions in the industry affected the ethnic mix. After a strike in 1872, Poles who were especially recruited for mill jobs mostly went to Bay City’s Polish Southside neighborhood. As in effect scab labor (as the French had been earlier and would be later), they were resented and stigmatized by other workers, but later were also stalwart supporters of labor protest.
And there was a lot of it, though sporadic and never very effective. In general, lumber workers received low wages for doing dangerous work for long hours under unsafe conditions (not unlike coal miners and textile workers). During a short-lived strike in 1872, Kilar says, lumberman Henry Sage fired almost all his workers, including some non-strikers, and brought in immigrant scab labor.
The years 1882-1885–during which production costs rose and profit margins shrank–saw bigger and longer “ten-hour” strikes (“ten hours or no sawdust”), in which workers demanded wage increases and a ten-hour day. They got higher wages, but only temporarily; they fell again in 1884, leading to an even bigger strike the next year.
Mill owners, Kilar observes, had poor relations with workers. Although absentee owners (of whom there were many) had a worse record than resident ones, in general they
saw labor as simply an item in the cost of production. Wages were set by market conditions, and costs and profits were largely dependent on wage rates. This impersonal formula permitted the lumbermen to disregard . . . their responsibility for the conditions of . . . [a] seasonal and transient workforce . . . [of] irresponsible . . . [and] troublesome shanty boys in the logging camps [and common laborers in] the sawmills.
In the lumber towns, the rigid logging camp rules were maintained to ensure “prompt payments of rents in company-owned housing and immediate dismissal . . . for union activity.”
The lumbermen were facilitated in their disdain for their workers by a key syndrome in the local culture and social order: the annual spring orgies of worker debauchery, provided for, structured into, and winked at by city authorities.
It began, as Kilar tells it, when the shanty boys
threaded their way through the forests over muddy tote roads and trails to isolated wayside railroad stations. Here they purchased the infamous “ticket to hell.” With a couple of hundred dollars in their pockets the loggers headed for the great logging towns. They set out to take part in the annual orgy of drinking, fighting, and whoring.
Their ticket to hell took them to the “tangle of saloons and brothels” in the Catacombs in Bay City, White Row in East Saginaw, or the Sawdust Flats in Muskegon. Kilar’s discussion of this multifaceted history is long and detailed; I have space only for a brief synopsis of one sector.
Particularly salient, alongside dance halls, gambling dens, bars, “rowdyism,” fighting, and violent deaths, was prostitution. A chapter in John Fitzmaurice’s Shanty Boy; or, Life in a Lumber Camp (1889) sketches Bay City’s Catacombs zone of debauchery and violence, which he said had been “in full blast” since 1869, and was matched by those in Muskegon and East Saginaw.
When the logging camps shut down in the spring, Fitzmaurice says, each man had “a stake” of several hundred dollars to squander in “profligacy and intemperance,” frequently watched (and joined) by men from “the better classes of society.” Forty saloons could be found within a 300-fot radius, with “from three to ten pretty waiter girls in each.” Taken together, Bay City and Saginaw had perhaps 1,400 prostitutes. Fitzmaurice sketches the Catacombs scene in language characeristic of the period. “The building known as the Catacombs,” he said,
was three stories in height, . . . [and] took its name from the basement of the building being composed of a number of dark apartments, abutting upon the street above. Here were found every facility for drunkenness, debauchery and gambling, all or singly, associated with deeds of robbery and even murder. Here, in the darkness made visible by the flare and glare of dirty lamps, day and night alike, were found congregated the lowest and most degraded of both sexes. Here the most horrible and obscene orgies were carried on with perfect impunity . . . . In the third story was a variety theatre, where the plays presented were of the character suited to the vilest and most depraved taste, and the “wine room” attached to it was the receptacle of rotten moral corruption, impossible to even here hint at.
In whatever language it was cast, it was not a pretty or healthy situation. Nor, probably, even a sustainable one, because the flow of money that sustained it was about to dry up.
Collapse of the Industry and Town Competition
The class struggle portended by the strikes of the mid-1880s, Kilar judges, never materialized. Workers in Bay City “lapsed into residential enclaves and ethnic consciousness,” there was no more lumber “left to cut.” The mills began to close, and apparently incendiary fires consumed many of them (thirteen in one year; “sold to the insurance companies,” the local euphemism had it). Workers, owners, and managers began to leave: first the lumber barons, then the loggers and mill managers, then the sawmill workers following behind–on the way (they hoped) to other jobs elsewhere. Town populations declined dramatically; Bay City lost 1,500 in a half-dozen years, though importing logs from Canada, and remaining jobs in fishing and hardwood processing stretched out the losses.
If the Saginaw Valley towns wanted to survive, they had to change course. They had been built by the lumbermen, controlled by the lumbermen, and then abandoned by the lumbermen and left to fend for themselves. Communities that had been busy and prosperous “presented a desolate scene of abandonment and ruin,” Kilar says:
Shipping facilities along the waterways fell into
disuse. Abandoned sawmills and burned-out ruins gradually deteriorated. Lumber docks began to decay . . . . Squatters moved into river or lake shanty towns.
Homes and boarding houses near mills sat empty, company housing closed down, property values declined, and couldn’t sell houses near mills, and commercial districts became blighted.
Public improvements were neglected; old wooden
sidewalks decayed and little effort was made to pave sawdust or wooden streets. In Bay City, the citizens voted down a bond issue in 1888 to buy a commercial street-lighting plant. Once the decline set in, commercial functions and their locations likewise changed. Company-owned stores near the sawmills closed and no longer dominated
the commercial field. Chain stores, catering to a population
of more limited means, moved in. The infamous hellholes in the sawdust districts, drinking establishments, and restaurants became vacant.
The cities responded differently. Before many years had passed, both Saginaw and Muskegon had managed to re-industrialize and recover, in some respects surpassing their former prosperity. But Bay City “debated and procrastinated,” Kilar observes. Compromised by “absentee ownership, conservative economics, and racism toward its workforce,” it stagnated, insisting that the lumber industry could somehow be salvaged and extended.
What happened to Carrier & Company during this period I have not been able to discover. How much money did Edwin Carrier actually make in the industry? How did he encounter and evaluate its dramatic and chaotic decline? On these questions we have no evidence whatever. Nevertheless, this brief account of the lumber industry on the Lower Peninsula would appear to provide more than sufficient motive for him to leave (shortly before 1885, it appears) and move 600 miles south to western North Carolina.
From Michigan to Western North Carolina
Although Asheville was far smaller than Bay City (whose 1880 population was about 20,000), it was in the midst of rapid economic and population growth (on the way from 2000 in 1880 to 10,000 in 1890). It was situated (as streams of news and advertising justly proclaimed, and streams of tourists saw for themselves) in a gorgeous natural mountain setting. The Land of the Sky (see several previous blog posts: 1, 2, 3) they had been calling it for some years now
A few days after the first train on the Western North Carolina Railroad passed through the 1800-ft. Swannanoa tunnel and steamed into Asheville, Atlanta’s Daily Constitution joined in the joyful news concerning the marvels of the city and the Land of the Sky.
And there was land to be had–still in abundance. More than enough, one would
think, to command the attention of a Michigan lumberman with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Sometime between The Daily Constitution‘s late 1880 article and his first land purchase in Buncombe County in August 1885, Edwin Carrier decided to head–along with so many others, “into the Blue Ridge.”
And what was an ex-lumberman to do when he got there? Maybe some more lumbering might have appealed, since Carrier the ex-lumberman from Pennsylvania had continued to do that when he got to Michigan.
For a long time, historian Ronald Eller says, reports of hardwoods four to eight feet in diameter and more than 150 feet tall had been common. And as the railroads penetrated western North Carolina in late 1880, he says, “one of the most frenzied timber booms in American history” escalated along the main lines and then radiated outward over the branch lines that pushed deeper into the mountains.
Indeed, the long-known wealth of old-growth timber in the southern mountains was drawing increasing attention from northern lumbermen as supplies dwindled in the midwest and northeast.
According to environmental historian Donald Davis, in the 1890s ninety-four percent of North Carolina’s far western Swain County (to take a single example) was still covered in forests, two-thirds of it virgin, and the stands in surrounding states were vast as well.
Northern lumbermen soon began to send scouts into the southern mountains, and to purchase tracts of tens or hundreds of thousands of acres.
In 1892, Asheville banker, developer, and street railway executive D. C. Waddell (some of whose activities and connections I outlined in an earlier post) advertised a huge tract of hardwood timber for sale.
In the two later photos below, one sees industrial-scale logging in western North Carolina, ca. 1905-1915, being done by hand and hauled by mule teams rather than floated down flumes or hauled by gigantic geared Shay locomotives.
The results of industrial logging during western North Carolina’s own “frenzied timber boom” were–as they had been in Michigan (except perhaps worse for being done on a more mountainous landscape)–widespread devastation.
Had Carrier opted to push on as a lumberman, he would have caught the rising wave in western North Carolina, where industrial-scale logging arose around 1880 and was to flourish on into the 1920s.
But Carrier chose not to buy timber lands. Why? No one really knows, it appears, but here are several (perhaps plausible) guesses:
- He may not in fact have left Michigan with what could have reasonably been called “a fortune.” Had he been able to sell his mill and lands? Had he burned his mill down for insurance, as others did? I don’t know that he did, or that he didn’t, but at the time he left, idle sawmills were a drug on the market.
- Most lumbering in both Pennsylvania and Michigan while he was there had been done by relatively small mills, of which his was of modest size. But in western North Carolina, Ron Eller writes, rights to what would eventually total two billion board feet of hardwood were being bought up in a dozen counties by the gigantic W. M. Ritter Company of Pennsylvania (and its offshoots). It is difficult to believe that Edwin Carrier came out of Michigan with enough money to compete in such a market.
- However: two deeds on file in Buncombe County show that in August 1885, while still living in Michigan, he paid $3415 cash for 51 acres on the French Broad River (his first Buncombe County purchase, equal to about $82,000 in 2016) and sold it nine months later for $5,000 (about $120,000). Clearly, cutting timber was not the only route to quick money in western North Carolina.
In any case, Edwin Carrier chose to relocate in West Asheville, some of the earlier history of which I treated in (The Several Lives of West Asheville, Part I). My next post will present a fuller account of Carrier’s activities in West Asheville–shaped in important ways by his experience in both Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Aliceio, Edwin G. Carrier: Early Developer in West Asheville (2014); Bay City, Michigan Directories (1868-1883; HathiTrust); Branson’s North Carolina Business Directory (1867-69); Buncombe County Register of Deeds (Edwin G. Carrier land transactions, 1885-1900); Nan K. Chase, Asheville: A History (2007); Donald E. Davis, There Are Mountains: An Environmental History of the Southern Appalachians (2000); Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill. Ronald D. Eller, Miners, Millhands and Mountaineers: Industrialization of the Appalachian South, 1880-1920 (1982); August H. Gansser, History of Bay County, Michigan: And Representative Citizens (1905); History of Bay County, Michigan with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers (1883); History of the Lake Huron Shore: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers (1883); Lou Harshaw, Asheville: Mountain Majesty (2007); Jeremy W. Kilar, Michigan’s Lumbertowns: Lumbermen and Laborers in Saginaw, Bay City, and Muskegon, 1870-1905 (1990); J. McKnight, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania: Her Pioneers and People (1917); Harriet Adams Sawyer, Asheville or the Sky-Land (1892); Kate M. Scott, History of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania (1888); Umberhine & Gustin’s Lake Shore Gazetteer and Business Directory (1861).