WhiteMountainHistory.org                
Telling the story of 200 years  of White Mountain History
                               Conway Lumber Company
                                            BY Rick Russack

In 1907, The Conway Lumber Company built one of New England’s largest sawmills in the southwestern part of Conway village. The mill was a state-of-the-art three-story, steel framed building with over 20,000 square feet.  There were several other buildings on the property: a kindling wood mill, a box mill, storage sheds, a sorting and shipping shed, etc.  The complex was designed so that all its waste wood was used as fuel in its own boilers.  A one acre, steam heated log pond was part of the complex. 

Conway Lumber Company Sawmill Yard

                Conway Lumber Co. Sawmill Yard, c.1905-1920
                           Click on map for larger image

A conveyor from the pond brought the tree length logs to the second floor of the mill. Two sets of band saws were in use; one handled logs up to 20’ long and the other could handle logs up to 40’ long.  Steam driven log carriages moved the logs to the band saws, which cut the logs into the required sizes of lumber.  If needed, the boards would then travel to edgers and/or planers for additional finishing.  The mill had the capacity of sawing up to 125,000 board feet of lumber daily. The mill prospered through the first two decades of the 20th century and was especially busy, and profitable, during World War I.  The large mill closed in 1920 and the property was sold to others.  In one form or another, there was a sawmill on the site until about1960. (Additional details about the operation of the sawmill can be found in Bill Gove’s “Logging Railroads of the Saco River Valley”.)

 

The Conway Lumber Company eventually owned or leased large stands of virgin timber in the area and operated three separate logging railroads to bring logs to its mill.  The company employed many men in the mill but most of the actual logging operations were conducted by contractors.  Their first railroad was the Swift River Railroad, built in 1906.  Next was the Rocky Branch Railroad, built in 1908 and the last was the East Branch Railroad which was built in 1916, partly to increase production during the war.  Railroad equipment, such as locomotives and log cars, was often moved from one line to another, as needed.  The companies that owned them built most of the other logging railroads; the Conway Lumber Company roads were built for them by the Boston and Maine Railroad.  This company was different from the others in another major way.  It was an out-of-town corporation and its President, Oakleigh Thorne, was a Wall Street tycoon.  Most of the company’s officers knew little about Conway, and according to Fran Belcher, they knew little about logging.  (Belcher in his “Logging Railroads of the White Mountains” discusses the very involved corporate structure in detail.)

         Click here for photos of the Conway Lumber Co. Mill

          Bill Gove's Composite  Logging Railroad Map                    
                 

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