History: Logging in New Hampshire

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Logging in NH

Before there was Granite there was Timber

By: Staff Writer #1

Logging was a leading industry in New Hampshire and Vermont in the early 20th century. We do not often appreciate the scale of these operations, and the amount of forest that exists now, that had been stripped bare in the past 100 years.

 
Logs arriving at a mill in Keene to be cut.

Logs arriving at a mill in Keene to be cut.

 

When you are walking along from a trailhead in the White Mountains into the woods you might notice the trees are, on average, about the circumference of your leg. If so, you are in a secondary forest, meaning the trees around you grew on land that had been logged completely bare in recent history (in the grand scheme of things...100 years-ish).

If you look carefully you may notice a couple trees that are much bigger and older than the surrounding trees. Those are trees that the loggers were afraid to cut down, typically they were unsure of how the tree would fall. If you look at the trunk of these large trees, you might notice some oddities that will clue you into the loggers decision to not cut it.

An example of the secondary forest of the Old Bridle Path

An example of the secondary forest of the Old Bridle Path

These secondary forests are everywhere in the Whites, but two come to mind as excellent examples: If you hike Mount Moriah from the Carter-Moriah trailhead in Gorham you will follow what was a logging road for the first mile. There is even an abandoned vehicle along the trail.

Additionally, if you head up to Lafayette and the Greenleaf Hut you’ll walk on the Old Bridle Path through a very young forest.


In the early days of the logging industry in New England companies would build log flumes to transport lumber out of the mountains. These were were similar to aqueducts, or massive waterslides. The logs fly down hill on top of flowing water to a sawmill (As an English teacher, I would like to point out that “Flume Slide” is redundant).

Some companies transported their logs to the nearest river (The Pemigewasset, Saco, or Connecticut). Once there the companies would float their logs downstream to the mills.

 

Clearing a log jam on the Saco River in the late 1800s

 

Logging was the center of the New Hampshire economy in the first half of the 20th century. The federal government purchased the White Mountain National Forest in 1914 for the purpose of managing natural resources (the timber). The Forest Service is dedicated to ensuring sustainable harvesting of timber, and to the building of logging roads.

Thanks to the work of the Appalachian Mountain Club it feels as the though the White Mountain National Forest is a park. However, as far as the federal government is concerned, it is not.