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January 22, 2005

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The little town of Rainelle came into being as the result of the world’s largest hardwood mill, run by the Brothers Raine. Gone now for more than three decades, Meadow River Lumber lives only in the memories of older members of its former home.

For 60 years, Meadow River Lumber Company, in tiny Rainelle, W.Va., was the largest hardwood mill in the world. People were born in Rainelle, grew up, married, raised families, became grandparents, never knowing a time when the mill had not existed.

It’s now been more than 34 years since Meadow River was sold to Georgia-Pacific and ceased to exist. A whole generation, born since 1970, knows Meadow River only as history. A shopping center, a bank and a new armory sit where the old mill used to be. Fast food restaurants occupy part of the ground where the mill’s huge lumberyard once stood.

That piece of history began at the turn of the century, when one of the last big stands of virgin hardwood in the United States, in western Greenbrier County, drew the attention of two Pennsylvania lumbermen, Thomas and John Raine. They purchased this timber – more than 100,000 acres – in 1906, built a hardwood sawmill and the town of Rainelle.

The spot the Raines chose to build their mill was a wilderness, 20 miles from the nearest railroad mainline. They built a spur line to haul equipment in and later haul their products out.

Construction of the band mill began in 1909. On September 10, 1910, the first board was sawed. With three nine-foot band saws under one roof, it was the largest hardwood mill in the world.

From 1906 until 1912, Thomas Raine was president of Meadow River and Sewell Valley Railroad. In 1912, he retired and John took over as president. Thomas died at his home in Fairview, Pa., in 1933. Unlike many absentee lumber barons, John Raine lived in the town and took a genuine interest in the welfare of the people. The company houses were provided with running water (from company-dug wells), bathrooms and electricity. Each one had its own lawn and garden plot. Raine even provided pasture land to those employees who wanted to keep livestock. The company erected the first schoolhouse and supplemented the salaries of teachers. There was a company store, bank, theater, boarding house, and a church and parsonage.

The original mill burned to the ground on August 24, 1924. The employees were put to work immediately building a new one. This time, it was made of steel instead of wood. The new mill was completed and in operation by March 9, 1925.

John Raine stepped down as president in 1938, and died in 1940. Howard Gray, who started to work for Meadow River in 1910, succeeded him as president. When he died in 1961, his son, Robert, became the company’s final president.

Meadow River pioneered the practice of clear cutting in 1939. Hardwood, unlike pine, begins almost immediately regenerating. The stump and root system sends up sprouts within a matter of months, sometimes only weeks. Much of Meadow River’s original property has now been cut over twice.

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January 22, 2005

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