Telling the story of 200 years  of White Mountain History
                                 James E. Henry
                 Wood Butcher or Just a Good Businessman?
                                          by Rick Russack

James E. Henry is one of the more controversial characters in the history of the White Mountains.  He was roundly criticized in the press of the day for his logging methods.  He was called a "wood butcher" because his logging crews engaged in "clear cutting".  That refers to the practice of cutting all trees on a piece of land, not cutting selectively, as is now done.  A consequence of Henry's clear cutting was that his lands were littered with "slash"- the tops and branches of trees that were not used for lumber or pulp.  Slash was fuel for forest fires and there were large fires on Henry's lands.  However, when judging Henry and his methods it must be remembered that the science of forestry did not exist when he was logging.  He did what most others did but he did it on a larger scale.  He built two towns and over 50 miles of logging railroads.  He built saw mills, pulp mills and paper mills.  Although a shrewd businessman, his employees were loyal and considered themselves well treated.  In many families, more than one generation worked for the Henrys.

From humble beginnings, J.E. Henry and his three sons would eventually own thousands of acres of woodland, ranging from Crawford Notch, through the Pemi Wilderness, to Lincoln and Franconia.  At various times, he operated saw mills from the Lower Falls of the Ammonusuuc down to Livermore Falls on the Campton/Plymouth line. He owned a saw mill and charcoal kiln on lands he sold to the Mt. Pleasant Hotel Co.  He owned part of the land the Mt. Washington Hotel is built on.  Eventually, most of the land he owned became part of the White Mountain National Forest.

J.E. Henry was born in 1831 in Lyman, NH and the first years of his life were spent on a farm.  His father died in 1845, and supporting the family became his responsibility.  Farming income was supplemented with driving a freight wagon through Crawford Notch to Portland, and probably with the sale of timber from small woodlots.  He married in 1854, and continued to earn his living from a variety of occupations.  The first of five children, a daughter, was born in 1855.  Eventually there would be two daughters and three sons.  The sons were all active in the business and were partners with their father. 

The Henry 
family moved a number of times in the early years, and by 1872 it would appear that logging was the main business.  Grafton County deeds indicate that in 1875 J.E. Henry acquired his first part ownership of a sawmill, near Fabyan’s.  He had a number of partnerships over the next few years, bought and sold much timberland, and eventually, by 1881, had bought out all his partners and was operating his own steam powered saw mill in Zealand. 

Charcoal was a major product for Henry and it appears that he operated  charcoal  kilns  at three different locations.  Probably the first was on land that he eventually sold to the Mt. Pleasant Hotel. Early maps of the area show a trail knowns as "Coal Kiln Trail".  Remnants of a large kiln have recently been found in that area.  This kiln was probably discontinued when Henry began to operate in Zealand, in 1880.  He had kilns in Zealand and Lincoln. Remnants, although difficult to find, remain in Zealand.  In Lincoln, it's believed that the kilns were slightly to the east of Pollard Brook where it crosses Rt. 112.  No evidence remains of these kilns but photos survive.

In 1885, he began building and operating the Zealand Valley Railroad.  He built a town with 2 railroad stations, a large modern steam sawmill, a boarding house, post office, store, homes for workers, a large home for himself,  and the five charcoal kilns.  The logging railroad eventually extended several miles into the virgin timberland and millions of board feet of lumber were cut in the Zealand Valley.  By 1892, the accessible timber had been cut.  He leased his Zealand mill and some equipment to a business associate, George Van Dyke and it was time to move on to Lincoln. 

When Henry and his men arrived in Lincoln, the town we know today as Lincoln did not exist.  Where the Village Shops, homes, hotels, restaurants, condominiums, and a ski area now exist, there was nothing but trees.  And more trees. The population in 1892 was 110 and the town was located along the road to Franconia Notch. 

, under  the Henrys, was truly a company town.  The Henrys built the sawmill, homes for the workers, a store, a hospital, a hotel, boarding houses, a post office, churches, and perhaps most importantly, a very well built logging railroad. 
As the larger trees were cut, and paper making technology improved, the Henry family built pulp mills and sold the pulp to paper mills.  After a few years, paper making machinery was added, and high-grade papers were produced until 1980 (under a variety of corporate ownerships).


James Henry and his sons, at one time or another, held all of Lincoln's major offices: selectmen, tax collector, justice of the peace, etc.  When the mills were converted to use electricity, the entire town was supplied by the company.

  J.E. Henry, his wife Eliza, and his three sons, George, John and Charles 

The East Branch and Lincoln Railroad survived almost 50 years.  It was the longest and probably best built of the many White Mountain logging railroads.  The  roadbeds are still in use today for hiking, and vestiges of the log camps can still be seen.

Henry also invested in hotels.  He owned Thayer's Hotel in Littleton for a short time around 1901 and he may have been a part owner of the White Mountain House near his Zealand mills.

       An early J.E. Henry mill at the Lower Falls.  The old road passed in
                                                          front of the mill.


James E. Henry died in 1912.  In 1917, his sons sold the company, and the town, to The Parker Young Company, for $3,000,000. The Parker Young Co. had been established in Lisbon, NH in the mid-1870s; they were a well-established wood products company.


The public criticism of loggers like J.E. Henry and his contemporaries had significant positive results.  The most important of these was the eventual passage of the Weeks Act, in 1911, which authorized the Federal government to purchase privately owned forestland.  It was the Weeks Act that allowed the creation of the White Mountain National Forest.

Additional information on J.E. Henry can be found at our related site, LoggingInLincoln.com

Suggested Reading:
J.E. Henry's Logging Railroads by Bill Gove 


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