1814: Logs in swollen Maine rivers cause destruction

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The state of Maine is known for many things, including my favorite, Maine lobsters. But one of the longest running industries in North America, dating back until the early 1600s is logging. The British Royal Navy quickly claimed the best stands of light and strong Eastern White Pine for the masts, spars, and planking for their fast and maneuverable ships. England's competitors, the French, the Dutch, and the Spanish, were left to build from the heavier Baltic Fir. It was Revolutionary War debt which boosted the first large scale harvests. To raise money, Massachusetts sold land to the District of Maine. Logging operations grew in proportion to the national demand for lumber products, which grew in proportion to the expansion of the nation itself over the 19th and well into the 20th centuries. The industry became extensive and complex employing surveyors to identify likely stands of trees, lumbermen to cut timber, teamsters and their draft animals to haul logs, scalers to measure the timber's worth, and river drivers to float logs to the mills. Most trees were felled in the late fall and winter and then floated downstream on Maine’s rivers to ports at the coast. These golden rivers, as they were called, because of their color appearance because of the logs and the money the wood would represent on delivery were covered from bank to bank with floating timber. Most of the time they were controlled by crews working the river. But as they floated downstream in the spring they would sometimes get loose and out of control. The result could be, and often times was disaster as the timber acted like a battering ram destroying anything in its path. On May 17, 1814 after a soggy April and early May the rivers were all swollen and the logs did their work wiping out anything in their path, destroying bridges and docks and any structures near the shore. It would take years to recover.

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