“Bunkhouses Could Be Cold…”: A History of the Greenbrier Wood Hicks

The Greenbrier Historical Society opened a new exhibit on Friday May 3rd. “Bunkhouses Could Be Cold:” A History of the Greenbrier Wood Hicks discusses the rise of the lumber industry in the Greenbrier Valley and the life in the lumber camps, and includes a great collection of photographs from various timber operations. David Perkins, a member of the Historical Society, contributed stories about his family who were involved in the lumber industry. The lumber industry served as a vital part of the Greenbrier Valley for many years, and it is interesting to hear stories or see photos of the men who made it possible.

The great Appalachian timber industry boom began in the 1870s and lasted until its decline in the 1940s. It required men who could work in the woods, and none were better suited for the rough-and-tumble life of a wood hick than the native born mountaineers. “Wood hick” was a term used to describe the men who found employment with the lumber companies. They lived in temporary camps built in the mountains and would travel from one timber site to the next. With each member assigned specific tasks, the team would quickly and efficiently cut and haul away acres of timber with only hand tools and horses. The men worked hard and enjoyed playing cards, swapping stories, and playing music – some of which have become treasured parts of West Virginia folklore.

Before the railroads came to the mountains, men would haul the logs to the Greenbrier River and float them downstream during the spring floods to nearby mills. They dangerously rode in boats and “arks” along with the timber to break up any possible log jams. The largest early mill was the Saint Lawrence Boom and Manufacturing Company located in Ronceverte. It sawed 433 million board feet of white pine within a 24 year period. In 1906, the Meadow River Lumber Company in Rainelle was founded. It would become the largest manufacture of hardwood lumber in the world and was for years an innovative leader in the field.

The exhibit will on display from May 3rd to June 10th at the Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House Museum, located at 301 West Washington Street in Lewisburg. GHS is open free of charge Monday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm or by appointment. For more information, contact us at 304.645.3398 or info@greenbrierhistorical.org. Or like us on Facebook.

Display by Lanny Howe

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