The families of William Farmer, Samuel Monzingo, J.A. Byrnes, and Joseph Murrell were the first persons to live in the area that is now the city of Springhill. These men, and others, homesteaded the land in the late 1850’s.
This was a typical farming community until 1894. In that year, the Bodcaw Lumber Company began buying up land for a sawmill. This company, incorporated under the laws of Arkansas, had William Buchanan as its president, J.A. Buchanan, W.F. Ferguson, J.G. Ferguson, W.C. Brown, T.A. Brown, J.R. Brown, and Marshall Northcutt were other members of the company.
The first land purchase was from J.A. Byrnes in July of 1894.
In 1896, the sawmill operation was begun with approximately 50 employees. The company contracted for the building 25 houses for the workers in the area west of the mill. This area is still referred to locally as “Sawmill Town”
This was the humble beginning of what was to become Louisiana’s northern-most industrial city.
The community informally adopted the name of Piney Woods and a Mrs. Maxwell, wife of one of the construction workers, was given the honor of naming the town. Since there were so many men working in bare feet, she selected Barefoot as a suitable name.
Mrs. A.B. Rowland, in a letter, has given a vivid account of those early days. “I landed in Barefoot Station in November of 1896. It was on the L&A right-of-way one mile south of the state line. A grading crew was camping in tents. The L&A tracks lacked about five miles reaching here at that time, but were soon laid. The Pine Woods Lumber Company sent George Harris as general manager and J.F. Giles as secretary and commissary manager, to begin building a sawmill. I was present when Mr. Giles pulled the sign, Barefoot Station, from the store door and wrote Springhill on the reverse side and nailed it up again. That was a few days before Christmas, 1896.”
During this early period, Springhill consisted of a company store, a post office, and a barbershop.
While this seems meager by today’s standards, it was really quite remarkable. Springhill was every bit of a boom town. This was accomplished with only mules and oxen for transportation.
The nearest rail line was in Taylor, Arkansas. It was not long, however, until the new lumber industry required more efficient transportation and a rail line was build from Stamps, Arkansas to Springhill.
This helped not only the thriving lumber mill, but was a boom to agriculture as well.
About 1897, the Pine Woods Lumber Company was organized and took over the operation of the sawmill. The first recorded land purchase by the new company was in November, 1889.
From 1897 to 1993, Springhill grew and prospered with the Pine Woods Lumber Company.
In 1933, the company went out of business and the population dwindled. The mill was purchased in 1936 and revitalized by the Frost Lumber Company.
Thus is remained until 1946 when it was purchased by the Springhill Lumber Company, which eventually became Anthony Forest Products Corporation until it was permanently closed in 1972. The town had grown up around the old mill. By the time of its closure, the mill was in the center of downtown Springhill. The sawmill is long gone now, but not forgotten by longtime residents of the area. Many remember with nostalgia the mill’s rhythmic pulse, the old mill whistle, and even the black cinders which covered cars, smudged clothing, and lodged in eyes.
In 1918, the first well was drilled in the area. The Smitheman Well was a gas producer and provided the first natural gas to the growing community.
It was 1927, however, before Louisiana Power and Light came into Springhill and provided the community with electricity. Before this time, the only electricity available in the area was from the sawmill’s big dynamo.
Perhaps it was the success of the Springhill saw mill that encouraged International Paper Company to consider Springhill as a site for a different type of mill. In 1937, the big paper company chose Springhill for a large Kraft Paper mill. This selection changed Springhill almost overnight from a sleepy little sawmill town to an industrial town of almost boom town proportions. Men came from near and far to apply for work in constructing the mill and hoped for permanent employment upon its completion. The influx of people greatly overtaxed the housing facilities in the are. Men lived in tents in what is now City Park. Several families would crowd together in dwellings meant for one family. It was to take several years for supply to catch up with demand in the housing market.
Mr. Erling Riis was the construction engineer for the building of the mill. C.L. Crain was the manager of the brand new mill which by 1938 employed 850 people.
Other industries soon joined the paper mill in Springhill. In 1946, International began construction of a box plant which now ships products all over the world. Stauffer Chemical was the next industry to locate in Springhill. Stauffer began production of aluminum sulfate in 1949. In 1960, Arizona Chemical Company constructed a multi-million dollar plant in Springhill and began operation with 65 employees. American Cyanamid was the next to join the growing list of Springhill industries.
From that historic date in 1937, when International Paper Company selected Springhill for the site of its paper mill, the names Springhill and International Paper Company were almost synonymous in this area. As International Paper Company went, so went Springhill. Therefore, it was with a great deal of show and despair that Springhill received the announcement on October 10, 1978, that the sprawling paper mill was to be closed and torn down. Springhill almost collectively went into shock.
As it was in 1933, when the Pine Woods Lumber Company ceased operation, many left Springhill to seek employment elsewhere. But many stayed. The sons and grandsons of the men who had built the mill secured jobs with the demolition companies and helped tear it down. The people of Springhill watched with lumps in their throats and empty feelings in the pits of their stomachs as the old mill was blown up, dismantled, and hauled away.
Springhill was not to become a ghost town. She proved to be a city of survivors. There were still names like Arizona Chemical, American Cynamid, Stauffer Chemical, and Tyson Foods to provide employment. A new source of jobs also began to develop in the form of the oil industry. New oil fields were discovered int he area. Springhill men and women went to work not only drilling and producing oil and gas, but in the jobs that provided services to that industry.
But International Paper Company had not abandoned Springhill. Almost like a phoenix rising, IP’s new Wood Products Plant began to take shape in the dust where the old Kraft Paper Mill had stood. Many of Springhill’s sons and daughters are once again employed at the saw mill— an ultra-modern, mechanized, state of the art mill, but a saw mill nonetheless.
The first school house in Springhill was built on Rock Hill in 1897 on the site of what is now Oak Works on the Plain Dealing Highway. The building was a one-room, log structure. Grades one through eight were taught at the school Enrollment was 26 and school’s first teacher was W.A. Miller. Miller was to become a staunch advocate for more and better education. He was instrumental in having a petition drawn up which, if passed, would be a tax for the support of the schools. Although many people favored the tax, some did not and trouble broke out. Even though the tax was not brought to a vote, education did not flounder. In 1902 a large auditorium-type school building was erected. Arthur Pope was the principal and enrollment was approximately 62. This school, which consisted of ten grades, kept no permanent records, and issued no report cards to pupils.
“History of Webster Parish Schools” states, “The man who well deserved the credit for establishing a high school is W.B. Smith.” Smith began teaching in Springhill in 1909 and by 1910 he was successful in having the school approved as a State High School by the Louisiana Department of Education. The first graduates of SHS in 1910 were Mrs. G.A. Reynolds and Arthur Miller.
Education in Springhill continued to grow. In 1920 a new brick building was erected and J.L. Liggin became principal. In 1927, a new building, also brick, was built and S.R. Emmons was principal. During this period, Springhill became and accredited high school. This period also saw Springhill absorb small schools through consolidation. 1927 was also the year that the state athletic association included Springhill in its membership.
The early school house also served the community as a church. The church, known as Union Church, was interdenominational. Worship services were held in the school until 1920 when the Pine Woods Lumber Company sold one acre building sites to both the Methodist and Baptist Churches for $1.00 each. Materials were donated to the town to construct a church building. At first, the Baptists and Methodists shared this building, meeting on alternate Sundays. Then this time, the Methodists offered to sell their interest in the building to the Baptists for $500, provided the Baptists moved the Union Church building to what is now the site of the First Baptist Church. The Methodists retained the original site and a new structure was erected.
In 1908, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Dees established the first telephone service for Springhill. The Springhill Telephone Company operated from their home and served approximately 8 families.
By 1912, Springhill had grown large enough to support more businesses. It was about this time that the area known as “The Hill” came into being. The Hill consisted of a filling station, two general stores, and a barbershop. “The Hill” area of Springhill is now heavily traveled Butler Street where Brookshires is located today. Although “The Hill” has been gone for years, the term is still a familiar colloquialism in Springhill.
Since the first sawmill began operation in 1936, Springhill’s economy has been tied directly or indirectly to the forest and trees which cover her rolling hills. In acknowledgement of this fact, we celebrate this 35th annual Lumberjack Festival.
Adapted from the 2nd Annual Lumberjack Festival program, 1985.