The heights — and depths
According to The Knoxville Sentinel, in 1925 the Conasauga Lumber Co. employed 700 men at its mill in Conasauga and in the woods, including the Cohuttas. Because of Conasauga, Polk County was one of the largest lumber producers in Tennessee with production of about 75,000 board feet a day.
With the lumber company beginning after the turn of the century and picking up steam for the next couple of decades, Conasauga entered a new era of commerce as suddenly as it had gone from an Indian to a white settlement after the “Trail of Tears” removal in 1836-1838. Churches, schools and timbering support industries — such as blacksmiths, commissaries, livery stables and homebuilding — sprang up to meet the growth in population that the new “band mill” brought.
By 1929 logging was completed in the Conasauga River vicinity and proceeded deeper around the Jacks River area.
But on “Black Tuesday” of the same year, hard times began for millions of Americans as the stock market crashed and the Great Depression was under way. At its peak in 1933, 13 million Americans were out of work, including loggers in the Southeast.
Conasauga Lumber Co. cut back on its logging and milling operation, laying off single men first. According to Tovar’s research, there appeared to be two separate periods when operations shut down completely during the Depression years. When work was available it was divided or rotated so that a larger number of men were employed. In 1931, Weyman Dooly Sr. of the lumber company convinced the company president to resume operations — even at a loss for the sake of local people — after they had ceased during the early years of the Depression. Gardner said her research showed logging had lapsed entirely for three years.
‘Heads held a little lower’
Even so, in 1933 at the nadir of the Depression nationwide, the mill was running again at Conasauga and the lumber company had persevered, Tovar noted.
Painter, who alternated working between Conasauga and the camps, said that in 1932 work had been slow at the mill.
“I had been able to work some even though it was sporadically,” he wrote in his book. “Machines and equipment again became silent about the time (Franklin) Roosevelt was elected (in 1933) and the men of my acquaintance walked at a slower pace with their heads held a little lower. The mill opened once more in a cautious mood for about six months before it closed with a ring of finality in 1933 ... I was one of the lucky ones as the lumber mill opened once again in 1934, and as was the case each time the mill had closed and reopened, we began maintenance and repair work to become operational.”