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Feature Article - August 2, 2007

A piece of history in Parham

by Meghan Balogh

The water no longer rushes through the sluiceway, and the roof and walls are decrepit and falling in. Green crushes in on every side of the old wooden structure tree limbs, vines, saplings, nettles. But Isabell Kennedy remembers the old mill in its prime, as if it were yesterday.

In 1924 Isabell’s father, Harry Card, moved to Parham. The following year he built the Card Brothers lumber mill on Fish Creek. Harry already operated a steam-powered sawmill in Mountain Grove, but saw an opportunity to expand his business and set up on the river.

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Isabell shares her memories of the operation as if she can see it all in clearly her mind. “Sometimes the logs were floated down the river to the mill and piled on the shore. Or they were trucked in, rolled down the hill, and taken in to the sawyer (the man who operated the saw).”

CardMill, 1930sShe sorts through a stack of old photographs that show a sturdy 90-foot-long structure at the base of a gently sloping hill. In one shot logs lay in neat rows, two men standing still and pondering the large tree trunks; the “guardrails” of Road 38 then quaint white wooden fences are visible to the left of the building. The surrounding countryside is surprisingly open and meadow-like with a tree-line along one side a huge contrast to the bush-land that it is today.

She points out a black and white picture of nine men standing in front of the mill. You can tell that they are happy to be there, and perhaps a little proud, too. Isabell’s brother and father are in the photograph, as well as some lads with familiar local names such as Lowery and Young (Walter and Clarence, respectively). The mill was undoubtedly a welcomed provider of jobs for local residents.

“There was one time that my father was selling a lot of wood on Elbow Lake,” Isobel reminisces. “Men would walk from Maberly to Elbow Lake just to get a job cutting wood. Today it’s not like it was then. Back then if you didn’t work, you starved to death.”

In another photo a horse and cart stand waiting as they are filled with sawdust, to be hauled away and added to a sawdust mountain not far from the mill. “My brother, two sisters and I had such fun in that pile,” says Isabell. “It was our playground.”

Yet another photo shows a young teenaged Isabell standing atop a pile of lumber, measuring stick in hand, next to a railway car ready to be loaded. The boards didn’t have to be hauled very far, as the train stopped right in Parham near the old Bateman’s General Store.

“One summer I measured 75 carloads (railway cars) by myself,” Isabell said with a hint of pride in her voice. When asked how much wood it took to fill a railway car, she quickly responded, “No, no wood is what you burn in your stove. Logs are what go into the mill. But lumber is the finished product.” One carload equaled approximately 20,000 feet of lumber which mean that in that one summer, she measured 1,500,000 feet of lumber. A feat most definitely to be proud of!

The boards were cut to all sizes anywhere from 8 feet to 12 feet in length, as they cut around troublesome knots. As they came out of the mill the boards were stacked, crisscross style to allow the air to flow between and help them cure and dry. The ends were left protruding so that one could navigate the piles. Isobel would climb the 15’ stacks of drying lumber in order to measure boards.

The mill ran successfully into the 1930s, when a malicious act of demolition halted its success. The dam, which diverted the river’s water into the channel (the sluiceway) that provided water-power for the mill, was destroyed with dynamite by unknown persons.

“To this day we cannot prove who did it,” says Isabell discreetly. “My father decided not to rebuild it, and the mill closed.”

Though the signs of its once-busy banks are now overgrown, Fish Creek is still home to the remnants of a small piece of our area’s history, and a family relic that will continue to represent the fond memories of those who know its story.

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