A natural resource feeds an industry
A white pine tree can grow to more than one hundred feet tall, with a trunk diameter of more than forty inches. There was a time when Minnesota’s forests were dense with white pines, which flourish in the cool shade and fine soils of the north.
New Englanders schooled in logging and sawmilling began looking to the pine forests of Minnesota as early as the 1830s. The first easterners established their logging operations along the St. Croix River, where they found white pines that were light enough to float on log drives, soft enough to mill easily, and were strong, durable, and resistant to decay. Commercial lumbering began in Minnesota in 1839 when a group of New England businessmen started a sawmill at what soon became a small town, Marine on St. Croix. A year later a second commercial mill was built at Stillwater, which within a decade became Minnesota Territory’s milling capital.
Over time, logging camps spread northward, becoming larger and more efficient in the process. Oxen were replaced with draft horses, and logs moved ever more quickly from the woods to sawmills to lumberyards. The years from 1890 to 1910 were the heyday of logging in Minnesota; lumber companies’ combined output was valued at $1 billion. Production peaked in 1905, when the lumber harvested in Minnesota would have filled 240,000 railroad cars.
"For all this a price was paid," wrote Agnes Larson in her History of the White Pine Industry in Minnesota, published in 1849. "One cannot with impunity rob Mother Nature of her treasures, for truly the sins of the fathers are avenged unto the third or fourth generation. The price we must pay for the rapid use of our forests is a vast area of wasteland for generations, or else a wise and vigorous policy of reforestation." Since 1997, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has overseen the White Pine Initiative to protect and replant this valuable resource.
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