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Interpreting the Evidence

Log Jam above the D&H Railroad Bridge, Fort Edward, NY

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    North Country
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Log Jam above the D&H.R.R. Bridge, Fort Edward, NY, 1913 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Log jam above the D&H Railroad bridge in Fort Edward, New York, March 13, 1913.
Historical Context
Paper, as a medium for written communication, could very well be the most significant technological advancement of human communication. Paper was first made almost 2,000 years ago in 105 A.D. by a Chinese court official, Ts’ai Lun. His paper was made from mulberry bark, hemp, and rags. He mixed these materials with water and mashed it into a pulp. The pulp was rolled flat as the water was removed. The result was a thin mat that would be hung to dry in the sun.  

The very first paper mill in the United States was built near Philadelphia in 1690 by William Rittenhouse and William Bradford. Rittenhouse and Bradford made paper out of old cloth rags. They collected, separated, cleaned, and recycled the old rags into America’s first domestic writing papers. Sounds like modern-day recycling, doesn’t it?

What does this have to do with logging in the Adirondacks? Well, in the first half of the nineteenth century, people made paper, like Rittenhouse and Bradford did, out of old rags, not out of trees. Therefore, the only profitable trees in the Adirondacks at the time were hardwoods, which were used for lumber, and the only mills were sawmills, which made lumber for building. However, in 1866 an American named Benjamin Tilgham began to use wood pulp to make paper. He mixed the chemical sulfite with the wood pulp in a process called sulfite pulping. This process was successful, and it used both softwoods and hardwoods. Consequently, logging companies began to cut down all types of trees for pulp and paper mills.

With the dawn of sulfite pulping, the logging industry in the Adirondacks blossomed. Loggers could now supply sawmills, paper mills, and pulp mills with trees. During this period in America, the demand for paper also increased. People wanted to purchase novelties, such as dime novels, and also wanted access to daily newspapers. The Civil War and its aftermath also increased the demand for cheap and accessible paper products.

Another factor in the increase of logging in the Adirondacks was sulfite pulping's successor, the kraft process. The kraft process became dominant in the early twentieth century. Its success was determined by the recoverable chemicals it used, the tremendous amount of energy the process produced, and the successful pulping of pine trees, a predominant tree in the United States and especially in the Adirondacks.

Thousands of trees were harvested in the Adirondacks during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and whole towns were connected to the logging industry. For example, in 1883 Mechanicville was dubbed "Paper City." That year, the Hudson River Water Power and Paper Company (HRWP&PC) produced twenty-five tons of chemical pulp fiber from the forests of the Adirondacks. By 1895, the company had expanded its operations to include a paper mill and produced forty tons of paper, which was mainly used for hymnals. The incredible output from major companies like the HRWP&PC overwhelmed many smaller or less technologically advanced mills, such as the rag-paper mill in Saratoga, the sawmill in Unionville, and various other small mills along the Racquette River.

Essential Question
How does geography impact local economies?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the role of geography in the local economy.
Historical Challenges
Peripheral industries sprouted around logging centers, such as tanning. How and why were tanning and logging connected? Locate Tannersville, New York, on a map. Research its local history in connection with the logging industry.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: One egg has approximately 80 calories, one pancake 120 calories, and one sausage 95 calories. If a lumberjack eats 10 eggs, 7 pancakes, and 9 pieces of sausage, how many calories did he eat?
Science: Research the environmental impact of deforestation and conservation efforts. Experiment with recycling paper in your classroom.
English Language Arts: Compare the tales of Tony Beaver (Appalachia) and Paul Bunyan (Northeast States). What similarities can be found? What do these stories say about the life of a lumberjack?