Emmett's Lumber Industry In the Past

The Emmett index. June 15, 1916.

The Burdge Mill
In going back to the event of the first sawmill to be located in this part of the Payette valley, it is found that the United States government used a portable single circular saw outfit, which was run by horse power, for sawing a part of the timbers and lumber used in the building of Fort Boise. This sawmill was located on a branch of Moore's creek, about eight miles from Boise. After the completion of the fort, the outfit was brought to the fort at Boise and eventually sold to William (Doc) Burdge, a settler living two miles west of Emmettsville, on the Payette river. Mr. Burdge brought the outfit to this valley late in the year 1869, or early in the year 1870, and installed it in connection with a small water power grist mill that he was running previous to his buying the sawmill from the government.

This grist mill consisted of a pair of small burrs made from lava rock taken from the Black canyon of the Boise river, near Caldwell, which he had purchased from the Bahn mill in Boise valley and used for grinding corn meal and graham flour. The water power was not strong enough to run both the grist mill and the sawmill at the same time and were run separately as the demand for chop and lumber required. The demand was very limited, too.

About the year 1873 William (Bill) Burdge, Jr., took charge of the mill and conducted its affairs until 1876 when Dan Downs and Sam Warner assumed control and operated it until they sawed into lumber a drive of logs that James Wardwell had made for them that season. This was the first real drive made for the Burdge mill. The logs used previous to this time were catch-as-catch-can and one-man drives of a few logs.

After Downs and Miller had finished their run, Bill Burdge again took charge, but did very little sawing.

The mill was then successively in charge of Joe Baker and J. V. Witt. Under the latter's charge the mill fell into disuse for several years and went to wreck.

In 1900 or 1901 George Boone repaired the mill and put it in running order. made a small drive down the river alone and sawed some lumber. This drive is the only real one man log drive on the Payette river on record.

In 1902 W. H. Davis, now a rancher at Deer Flat in Canyon county. came into possession of the mill, repaired and remodeled it, had a log drive prepared and made ready to commence sawing, but the government had a claim on the logs he had out and interfered with his arrangements. Consequently he did not saw any lumber.

In 1903 McNish & Allen assumed charge of the plant, got possession of the timber Mr. Davis had cut, made the drive and sawed the timbers for their mill and booms. Mr. Davis, not long after this, sawed up a few logs that he had on hand and closed down the plant. The saw rigging was eventually moved to Oregon and the water wheel was purchased by Faris & Keel, contractors of the Canyon canal. Thus ended the career of Emmett's first sawmill.

Bayse & Walker Mill

About the year 1871, John T. Bayne and Sam Warner moved a small sawmill from near Centerville, in the Boise Basin, to the Payette valley, and located it on the banks of the river near Emmettsville (Emmett) and sawed lumber for a couple of seasons. This outfit was run by steam power and consisted of a single circular saw. Just how long it was operated by steam is not known, for the flues of the boiler leaked so badly that it was very difficult to keep up steam. John Smearage was the engineer. The power was soon changed to water power. The output was not large on account of the limited market.

In the years 1872 and 1873 Bayne and Walker made their first regular log drives. One of the drives amounted to 200,000 feet. They were assisted in these drives by James Wardwell, Jud Allerton, Dan Downs, John Portlock and Tom Williams, the latter being the boatman and the only living member of the first crew of log drivers on the Payette river. Jud Allerton and Dan Downs made other drives for this lumber firm, but none of them reached the proportions of the first season. One of the drives was late in the fall getting to the boom; in fact, winter had set in. The drive was made by Allerton and Downs for Bayse & Walker. Both the drivers and mill owners were short of funds. The drivers refused to "snake" the logs into the pond until they had been guaranteed their wages. In the meantime Doc Burdge had heard of the difficulty and approached Allerton and Downs with a proposition to advance them $5 per thousand on the logs if they would put them in his pond. Downs favored the proposition, but Allerton disapproved of it. So trouble was brewing, as these rival sawmills did not feel very kindly toward each other. But Douglas Knox, hearing of the matter, acted as mediator and with the assistance of Merv Gill and Jonathan Smith an agreement was reached whereby Bayse & Walker were to let Allerton and Downs have each alternate 1000 feet of lumber sawed until they had received what was due them for making the drive.

Sometime during the above periods Mr. Walker associated himself with S. X. Goldtrap and purchased Mr. Bayse's interest in the sawmill, but the mill was known as the Bayae & Walker mill until Jonathan Smith and Nathaniel Martin bought it about 1878 and conducted it under the firm name of Smith & Martin. After disposing of the mill to Smith & Martin, Mr. Walker moved a portion of the machinery to Dry Buck, where he had built a sawmill.

Up to this time the mill ditch wan not large enough to drive the logs direct into the pond from the river, but they were "snaked" out of the river at the boom into the pond by ox teams. So Smith & Martin enlarged the ditch and pond, thus doing away with the necessity of "snaking."

In the year 1880, Smith & Martin sold the plant to James Wardwell, who erected a new mill adjoining the old one, putting in a double saw rigging, adding a planer and a shingle mill and later sash and door making machinery.

The old Bayse & Walker rigging went to pieces, part of it falling into the river on account of the river banks washing away, and a part of it probably being moved to Dry Buck.

The Wardwell plant was a modern one for those days and did a very successful business, necessitating larger drives each succeeding year. In order to meet a demand that still exists in this community he fitted up the top story of the mill as a dance hall and for public gatherings.

In the spring of 1885 Mr. Wardwell's mill was destroyed by fire, but it was rebuilt with more improved machinery and was operated by its owner until his death on June 5, 1891, when it was sold to Shaw, Cowden & Stevenson of the Caldwell Lumber Co. of Caldwell, who sawed what logs were cut and finally sold the machinery to K. P. Plowman, who moved it to where it now stands, just above the bridge that crosses the Payette river between Sweet and Montour.

The McNish Mill

The McNish sawmill, which has been absorbed by the Boise-Payette company, has been in existence since 1903, when McNish & Allen bought the logs which W. H. Davis had driven to Emmett, but which the government confiscated. These logs were sawed by McNish & Allen at the Davis mill, which was located opposite the old Goodsell ranch and run by water power. In December, 1903, Ed Allen retired from the firm and John McNish continued the business. The present mill was completed in the spring of 1904, and started operations July 18 of that year. The Index of July 14 contained the following account of the new mill and a eulogy of its owner, with which Emmett people generally at this time will agree was not far-fetched:

"It is very easy for people to sit around and talk about how the only means for Idaho to reach its highest development is through eastern capital, but upon investigation it will often be found that the prosperous sections of this country have been built up by the people themselves. One of Emmett's citizens has shown the right spirit, who through his natural progressiveness and business integrity has given Emmett its first pay-roll of any proportion. John McNish, merchant and lumberman, the citizen referred to, has nearly completed the establishment of his large sawmill below town. The mill begins operations Monday. The mill, which is one of the most thoroughly equipped in the state, will employ a force of 35 men. About 50,000 feet of finished stock lumber and laths will be turned out daily. There is enough timber in sight, between 2 and 3 million feet, to keep the mill in continuous operation until next December, when it will close down to await another supply of logs. The establishment of the sawmill in Emmett has special significance as it means the starting of Emmett's first manufacturing industry and gives the town its first permanent pay roll. Lumber from the McNish will will be shipped to all parts of the state and a few more industries like this in Emmett will create a shipping point unequalled in the state."

The first log drive for the mill arrived July 7, 1904. The Index of April 21 says:

"Lumbermen are beginning to prepare for the big log drive which comes off in June. A dozen man left Monday for Smith's Ferry to look after John McNish's interests and put everything in shape preparatory to the time when the river is high enough to float the enormous timbers. It is estimated that at least fifty or sixty men from Emmett will be employed in the drive. Lumbermen who have worked on the river for years, say the log drive this spring will be the biggest, with one exception, in the history of the river. The exception is 12 years ago when Ed Allen and E. E. Stanley brought 13 million feet of lumber down the river, establishing a record which is not liable to be surpassed for years. This spring at least 5 million feet of lumber will ride the turbulent waters of the Payette."

During the 12 years of its existence the McNish mill has cut approximately 50 million feet of logs, has disbursed a vast sum for labor and supplies, and has been an important factor in the development of the Payette valley because of the liberal policy of its owner toward the new settler in town and country. As an employer of labor, Mr. McNish has an enviable record of never having had a strike during the 12 years he has operated the mill and he retires with the good will of all his former employes.

Last fall the plant was leased to the Michigan-Idaho Lumber company. The mill was nearly rebuilt and considerable new machinery was added, including a band saw and a lumber of lahor-saving devices, and its capacity was largely increased. The lease would have expired the first of next year.

The Emmett index, 15 June 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. "Boise Payette Co.'s Mill to be Built in Emmett" issue

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