|The Virginia Hardwood Lumber Company was a huge finished-wood products industry that operated a brief twenty-one years in Bland County. It had the greatest economic impact on the county for many years. Although the company had a short life span, compared to other enterprises of equal magnitude, it was "the biggest thing that ever hit Bland County."
C.W. Boyd was selected President of Virginia Hardwood. E.R. Boyd became vice president and treasurer, and John W. Flanagan served as their first secretary.
The companiy's first operation began in 1923 in South Clinchfield, the second in Fort Blackmore. When timber supplies fell in 1924, Virginia Hardwood moved east toward Bland, Tazewell, Smyth, and Giles Counties. Wherever new mills were built, Northfolk and Western spur lines were essential.
While searching through Suiter, Hunting Camp Creek and the Wolf Creek Valley, the engineers found no sufficient water supply. However N&W made the possibility for Bastian because of its pickup and delivery station.
Transportation was inadequate. Rails were arranged for shipping the product and receiving supplies, but the six miles from Bastian to Suiter were a problem. Therefore, a "third rail" would lay down its own tracts into the back country and entail a mileage and tonnage levy payable to the railway.
Bluefield, Bland, and Wytheville opened avenues for communication previously seldom seen.
The Board of Review could find no place comparable to Bastian for a band mill. A double band mill was placed at Bastian. A narrow gauge rail stretched out of Poor Valley, from Bland to Tazewell, and Beartown cutting Garden Mountain off at the fringes of Burke's Garden. It was thirty-eight winding, narrow gauge miles from timber stands to Bastian.
Doublebit axes, crosscut saws and horses all played a significant role in the cutting and landing of timber. In 1936, the steam donkey was replaced by the diesel-powered tractor, but horses were used until the end. Main log landings were placed on bunkered rail cars for the long haul to the Bastian mill.
Men who worked in the mountains lived in camp rail cars until on area was "logged out." Then, the mobile camps were hitched to locomotives and pulled to a new sight.
Virginia Hardwood was one of the nations bigger operations in hardwoods. The Bastian mill cut softwoods, but was unmatched in processed oak, hickory, ash, maple, and chestnut.
An average double mill cut per day at Bastian topped 100,000 board feet. At the peak of logging in Crab Orchard and Poor Valley, Virginia Hardwood employed 450 to 520 in combined wood operations. There were 350 on the Bastian payroll, and for the first time in Bland County, there was an industrial breakthrough and a solid tax base.
The Bastian mill barely operated 3 years in Bland County when the stock market crashed in 1929. Furniture plants went out of business, so a wheel at Bastian wasn't turned for two rusty years. The "Great Depression" settled in on every household in the camp.
In June 1934, one side resumed for three days a week; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. New signs of life trickled from northern furniture manufacturers and caused Virginia Hardwood to produce all framing and hardwood flooring it could. A railroad car load destined for Springfield left Bastian every 10 days. There were more people to work in the years of 1935-37.
By 1938, tools for war were in demand and wood products were high on the list. "The Battle of Britain" demanded full production. Virtually all the plywood the company could produce in 1943-44 went into airplane production, Mosquitoes and troop-carrying gliders.
Most principal investors, lost their appetite for the long, hard pull of timer-sawmill demands, many died out and left uninterested heirs who sold it. Those left were not driven toward replacing or repairing worn out equipment. Small operators turned from steam to diesel-engine power. The big band mill in the eastern United States was giving way to circle saw mills that moved to the timber rather than expensive transportation requirements of getting the product to a permanent sight. The Bastian plant shut down in 1944, stock was sold off in 1944 and 1945, the mill was dismantled and sold. The company was dissolved in 1946.
The Virginia Hardwood Lumber Company sawed out and slipped into history after barely 24 years at three mill locations. No sufficient virgin timber tracts left in the Appalachian forestry belt remained that would justify its operation.
Tonya Bradshaw class of 1997
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