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The Lumberman's Frontier

Three Centuries of Land Use, Society, and Change in America's Forests

Thomas R. Cox

Publication Year: 2010

With The Lumberman’s Frontier, Thomas Cox has reconstructed a groundbreaking history that stands apart from all previous studies of American forests.

Forests were ubiquitous in early America, but it was only in selected areas that trees, rather than farming, ranching, or mining, attracted settlement. These areas constitute the lumberman’s frontier, which appeared first in northern New England in the seventeenth century, followed by upstate New York, the Allegheny Plateau, the upper Great Lakes states, the Gulf South, and the Far West.

The forest frontiers generated capital and building materials important in the nation’s development, but they also left a legacy of environmental problems, class and urban-rural divisions, and economic frictions. The 1930s marked the end of the lumberman’s frontier, but these consequences continue to shape attitudes and policies toward forests, most notably the questions “Whose forests are they?” and “How and by whom should forests be used?”

Drawing upon recent work in social and economic history, as well as a wealth of historical data on forest industries and individuals, The Lumberman’s Frontier neither glorifies economic development nor falls into the maw of ecological gloom-and-doom. It puts individual actors at center stage, allowing the points of view of the workers and lumbermen to emerge.

Published by: Oregon State University Press


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Front Matter

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Table of Contents

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p. viii


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p. ix


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p. x

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pp. xi-xii

This is not the book I set out to write. Several years ago Ray Billington approached me about preparing a short volume on the lumberman’s frontier for the American Frontiers series of which he was then the general editor. Knowing a good bit had already been done, having completed considerable...

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1 Colonists and Trees: Lumbering before the Lumberman’s Frontier

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pp. 1-22

Many things lured European settlers to North America, but the continent’s forest wealth was not prominent among them. Accounts of explorers and early visitors made clear the new land was cloaked with trees. Many an observer discussed the potential value of these for medicinal purposes,...

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2 The Lumberman’s Frontier Emerges

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pp. 23-46

In the mid‑eighteenth century, developments followed one another in quick succession, combining to make residents of northern New England more aware than ever of their dependence upon lumbering. As settlement came to new areas downeast, the place of lumbering in the economy grew ever larger...

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3 The Maine Frontier at Floodtide

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pp. 47-72

Maine became a state in 1820; the first lumberman’s frontier came into full flower there not long after. The two developments were intimately connected. Lumbering had developed slowly during the colonial and early national periods. Knowledge of the value of the District of Maine’s forests...

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4 From Farmer-Loggers to Lumbermenin the Mid-Atlantic States

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pp. 73-100

As important lumbering was in Maine during the early nineteenth century, however much it dominated its public image, Maine was not alone as a lumbering state. By 1825 New York reportedly had 4,321 sawmills, nearly six times as many as Maine (although few resembled Maine’s large...

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5 Lumber and Labor in the Pines:New Patterns of Conflict

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pp. 101-124

If Glens Falls provided the first clear manifestations in the Mid-Atlantic States of a genuine lumberman’s frontier, developments at Williamsport, Pennsylvania, represented its fullest flowering. Nothing earlier, not Glens Falls, not even Bangor in its heyday, had been a larger, more vibrant, more...

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6 New Mills, New Markets

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pp. 125-148

In the summer of 1840, desperately seeking a new market, Ralph Wadhams dispatched a cargo of lumber from Michigan to a commission merchant in Albany, New York. According to one authority, since “freight and charges . . . ate up all the proceeds” this blind venture was not soon repeated, but the statement is suspect. Other sources maintain that $100,000 worth of...

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7 The Full Flowering

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pp. 149-190

For three centuries Americans had been tapping the continent’s forests, gradually turning fixed resources into liquid assets and accumulating the capital, technological know-how, and organizational wherewithal to make lumbering one of the United States’ leading industries.1 These developments...

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8 Actions and Reactions

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pp. 191-212

In 1891 Frederick Weyerhaeuser moved from Rock Island, Illinois, to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he took up residence next door to James J. Hill, the railroad tycoon, who would soon become a close friend. Frederick’s...

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9 Southern Beginnings

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pp. 213-234

In 1608, while laying the foundations of the first permanent English settlement in North America and seeking to generate some early returns on the investments of underwriters of his colony, Captain John Smith dispatched a cargo of “Cedar wood” to Britain aboard the supply ship...

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10 Bonanza Years in the Gulf South

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pp. 235-262

The society of the Piney Woods was ill equipped to cope with the sweeping changes inaugurated when outsiders brought industrial forestry to the region following the Civil War. Prewar lumbermen had instituted changes, but they had been too few, their reach too limited, to launch society on a...

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11 To the Farthest Shore—And Beyond

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pp. 263-290

The reactions of early observers of North America’s Pacific Coast forests differed widely. Some, intrigued by the size of trees and denseness of stands, saw great potential profit for those who would tap them. John Meares visited the north coast in 1788 and took on a cargo of spars and ships’ timbers...

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12 Into the Mountains

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pp. 291-330

On April 10, 1912, Norwegian immigrant Simon Benson gave $10,000 to the city of Portland for twenty bronze drinking fountains to be placed along streets near the waterfront—the so-called North End—where hosts of loggers gathered when in from the woods. Benson had arrived in...

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13 The Final Frontier

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pp. 331-362

Since colonial times American lumbermen had moved across the continent, opening one forested area after another to exploitation. Their activity had been marked by an abundance of individual initiative and a minimum of regulation from authorities. Success required finding promising stands,...

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epilogue: Whose Forests Are They?

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pp. 363-376

The lumberman’s frontier is closed, but there are forests still. Unlike the earlier lumbering frontiers, the Far West frontier closed not because commercial forests were gone—they were not—but because forest reserves and new management philosophies resulted in circumstances in which...


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pp. 377-512

A Note on Sources

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pp. 513-518


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pp. 519-531

E-ISBN-13: 9780870716188
E-ISBN-10: 0870716182
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870715792
Print-ISBN-10: 0870715798

Page Count: 544
Illustrations: Maps, B&W photos
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 749021249
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Lumberman's Frontier

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Land use -- United States -- History.
  • Logging -- United States -- History.
  • Social conflict -- United States -- History.
  • Social change -- United States -- History.
  • Forests and forestry -- United States -- History.
  • Lumbermen -- United States -- History.
  • Lumbering -- United States -- History.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- United States.
  • Lumbering -- Social aspects -- United States -- History.
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