Heart of Louisiana: Cypress Mill Museum

Updated: Apr. 13, 2021 at 10:37 PM CDT
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PATTERSON, La. (WVUE) - It was once the site of the largest cypress sawmills in the United States and maybe even the world. Now, you can learn about that huge operation and the disappearance of Louisiana’s giant cypress trees at a state museum in Patterson.

This old film shot near Patterson, Louisiana in the 1920s shows how huge virgin cypress trees were cut in the swamp with men working out of small pirogues.

“You actually are able to see individuals balancing working together on those two person saws until the timber’s just about ready to give and fall over,” says Ashley Franklin.

The Louisiana Cypress Mill Museum in Patterson is near the site of a huge lumber company, The Frank B. Williams Cypress Company.

“You were considered a large lumber company if you could produce a capacity of a hundred thousand board feet a day. This mill had a 250,000 board foot capacity a day.”

Biggest in the country. Some would argue biggest in the world.

The century-old machinery here required as much muscle as it did steam power to cut and transport the huge cypress logs to the Patterson mill.

“Anyone who comes to our museum is going to be able to see some of the process from the beginning in the field to finishing in the sawmill,” says Franklin. “We also have on display multiple chain, dogs and chain tongs at speeds that exceed 100 miles per hour.”

We’re talking about this big metal claw, this tong that’s now flying by people at a hundred miles per hour?

“Correct. Yes. So you can imagine that was one of the more dangerous positions in one of the more common fatalities that you might see.”

And usually the riskier the job, the higher the pay. Giant sawmill towns like this one in Longleaf sprung across Louisiana in the early 20th century.

“It wasn’t just a job. I became a way of life. A lot of them were put up on skidder camps. Some of them were only accessible by water and their entire families lived on there with them.”

They cut and cut and cut virgin cypress and Louisiana longleaf pine until those sprawling forests were gone.

“Unfortunately, cypress is a species that’s quickly competed by other trees. So a lot of the places that we have lost that old growth cypress we don’t expect to see it come back.”

“And those sawmills and company towns are also gone but their history is preserved in this state museum that tells the story of a massive sawmill.

The state’s Cypress Sawmill Museum in Patterson is open Tuesday through Saturday.

For more information, visit HeartofLouisiana.com.

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