The forests of the Upper Cumberland were largely a hardwood forest … with such trees as oak, walnut, hickory, cherry, poplar, sycamore, ash and maple.
We say hardwood as opposed to softwood, such trees as pine and fir, cypress, spruce and redwood.
Hardwood trees lose their leaves in winter, while softwood trees keep their leaves … usually a needlelike leaf.
That can be confusing, because our local cedar trees, which are actually a juniper, have very hard wood, but are considered a softwood tree.
Hardwood trees are better adapted to making tool handles and furniture. Modern-day shipping pallets are often made from hardwood scraps from the lumber industry.
Some softwood trees are used today for construction with the common 2-by-4 purchased at a building supply made of pine.
As we have seen in our last two articles this month, trees from the hills of the Cumberland Plateau were brought to Hartsville and shipped to the sawmills in Nashville, which was once a city known for its furniture factories.
At one time, large rafts of hardwood trees were floated down river to the mills, but the seasonal fluctuations of the level of the Cumberland River made the process tricky.
The railroad to Hartsville in 1892 solved that. Logs and processed lumber could now be shipped year-round.
Consequently, several large lumber mills were built in town, as well as several lumber yards.
A 1904 article in a Nashville newspaper wrote about the lumber industry here. It read, “The shipment of lumber from here is continually increasing, and while heavy heretofore, will be greater from now on, it being estimated that not less than 5,000,000 feet will be shipped during the next year. Several lumber companies are doing business here and a Northern concern has prepared to establish an immense yard, capable of holding several million feet. The bulk of this lumber is hauled here from Macon County, and during the busy season from fifty to seventy-five wagons are unloaded each day. Much of this lumber is of the finest quality and some of it is shipped to foreign countries, bringing fancy prices.”
Old insurance maps of Hartsville show the location of some of those lumber yards, one being on a vacant lot across from our current post office.
The trade in lumber would continue well into the early 1900s.
An article from the Nashville Banner in April of 1926 stated, “Hartsville, Tenn, April 24 — (Special) — During the first two weeks in April there were shipped from this point over the L & N railroad, 34 car loads of lumber, 5 loads of crossties, 6 of tobacco, 14 of logs, 2 of cedar, 2 of handles, 1 of tobacco stems, 1 of hogs, and 13 of merchandise.”
Another from the same paper in May of 1926 is about an unusual item … flitches. It read, “Hartsville, Tenn, May 22 — (Special) — The first car load of flitches ever shipped from this point was shipped last week by S. M. Johnson & Company to G. E. Ingalls at Nashville. The flitches were made from the best white oak and are made up into veneering. This firm is shipping a large quantity of lumber from this point and other stations, and the price continues steady.”
The definition of flitch is a large slab of lumber.
Oak furniture was very popular in the early 1900s, and companies that manufactured furniture found it cheaper to use less attractive woods for tabletops and dresser fronts, etc., and to then glue a thin veneer of the more expensive and attractive oak over the uglier wood.
That lovely oak wood from the hills of Macon, Clay and Jackson counties found its way to the homes of America by passing first through Hartsville.
You may own a piece of oak furniture that you inherited from your great aunt Lula sitting in your den today … and she ordered it from the Sears and Roebuck Catalogue in 1930 … and it is made of wood from just up the road … and that oak wood was cut up and shipped from right here in Hartsville.