1 of 5
2 of 5
The Raine Home, About 1920The brothers took an interest in the company’s workers, providing pasture land and garden plots, but kept wages low.
3 of 5
The Raine BrothersThomas Raine, left, ran the company from 1906 until 1912, when his brother John took over.
4 of 5
The Shay LoaderWhen the company was sold, the engines were donated to the Cass Scenic Railroad.
5 of 5
The Area TodayThe company's former lumberyard is now home to fast food restaurants; a shopping center, bank and armory occupy the land where the mill stood.
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.
In 1939, Meadow River broke with tradition and started logging tree-length timber. The shop crew designed and built a special heavy-duty diesel loader capable of handling any length log.
The company’s lumberyard contained 11 docks, each 1,300 feet long, with lumber stacked almost 40 feet high. Railroad tracks were laid between the docks. All lumber was pushed manually on carts and stacked by hand. For some reason, Meadow River never switched to a modern lift truck system.
By cutting much of its timber from coal company land, Meadow River was able to keep thousands of acres of its virgin timber in reserve. As late as 1971, 2,500 acres remained, allowing the company to fill orders that Meadow River’s most famous product was flooring, turning out an average of 1 million feet per month. This flooring was shipped all over the United States and Europe. It was selected for the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City.
In 1932, a shoe heel plant was started. For more than 30 years, it turned out 4 to 6 million women’s shoe heels annually. A furniture plant operated until World War II, when it closed due to a labor shortage. After the war, operation was not resumed. The planing mill made many types of trim, stair treads and risers, baseboards, window frames, door jambs, molding, etc.
The company also turned out a number of unusual products such as chestnut coffins, crates for crystal glass, white ash frames for Packard cars, maple for Ford car bodies and long ship beams for British submarine chasers.
Progress finally caught up with Meadow River. While it pioneered many logging practices, at the same time it clung to obsolete (and expensive) methods of doing things. Meadow River never did pay much. In 1939, general labor paid 25 cents an hour for the first 30 days and 30 cents after that. In 1970, general labor was $2 an hour. A lengthy strike in 1969 and another threatened for 1971 had the owners running scared. During the winter of 1970, they sold out to Georgia-Pacific Corporation for $7 million.
G-P found the old steam mill could not be operated at a profit and tore it down in 1975. They built a new single-band electric sawmill just outside the north city limits of Rainelle. This mill currently employs 55 people and has an annual production capacity of 15.5 million board feet.
The old Heisler and Shay logging engines along with the machine shop were donated to Cass Scenic Railroad. The power plant was dismantled and shipped to Haines, Alaska. Many of the artifacts from the mill are now in the archives in Charleston.
Thomas and John Raine are long gone. The mill they built is no more. Sadly, today, there is no evidence in Rainelle that the largest hardwood mill in the world was ever part of the town.