Woodbury County, Iowa Genealogy

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By Leona Glover Davis


            From the towns of Salix and Sloan westward to the Missouri River is a broad strip of fertile farmland, divided with well-tilled fields intersected by graveled roads and spotted here and there with neat farmhouses.  It is all so quiet with the peace of agriculture that it seems incredible that the region once was filled with the virgin forest and that the silence once was broken by the sharp ring of the woodsmanís axe and the whine of sawmills.

            The first settlers in the region found the Iowa bank of the Missouri River lined with thousands of acres of cottonwood and elm trees, all of mammoth size and waiting be cut down.  For many years lumbering was an important and profitable industry, which offered employment to hundreds of men and provided lumber, cordwood and by-products for the settlers as far south as Onawa and as far north as Sioux City.

            A pioneer in the business was John Nairn, who came to the vicinity in 1869 from New Ulm, Minnesota, and started the operation and sawmill in Lakeport Township, about four miles southwest of Salix.  The mill was a great boon to early settlers with such primitive habitations as log houses and sod shanties.

            Mr. Nairn was a native of Scotland and had followed his vocation as carpenter and builder in Minnesota for several years.  Nairnís mill grew to be a place of considerable importance.  In addition to a large list of regular employees many transients were given seasonal employment cutting down trees, scaling logs, cutting and hauling cordwood, and doing other work pertinent to the wood and lumber business.

            The lumber turned out at Nairnís mill was of high quality and accurately cut.  It always found a ready sale.  Thousands of feet of it were turned out every year, all cut from a fine quality of cottonwood and elm.

            Some of the lumber was hauled to Sioux City, but most of it was used in the construction of residences and farm building in the community.  No doubt houses and other buildings still may be found at Salix, Sloan, or Sergeant Bluff with framework of lumber form Nairnís mill.

            In addition to furnishing lumber and building materials, the mill also furnished hundreds of cords of wood for fuel each year.  Much of this wood was sold to the Sioux  City and Pacific Railroad for locomotives and for heating buildings and coaches.

            This wood was delivered to Salix or Sloan during the winter months.  It was stacked along the railroad right-of-way in ricks eight feet high and 200 or 300 feet long.

            Subsequent to the coming of Nairnís mill, several other people came into the section with sawmills and helped complete the destruction of the forest.  Notable among Nairnís successors were William and Benjamin Glover, Isaac Bridget, and the Forney brothers.

            The Glover brothers were born in Kentucky and moved to the vicinity of Salix after living for several years in Missouri.  The Glover Mill was established in 1882 about one mile west and three miles south of Salix.

            Some idea of the size of the mill may be gathered from the fact that the boiler was 22 feet long and the flywheel on the engine was seven feet in diameter.  Logs up to 22 feet in length were taken from the 80 acres of timber in which the mill was located.  Nairn also contributed timber to the Glover Mill and thousands of logs were brought down the Missouri River in rafts to be fed into the whining saws.

            Both the Glover brothers raised large families.  Benjamin Glover had seven children and William had nine.  Many descendants of the pioneer lumberman still are living in the vicinity of Salix and Sloan.  Benjamin died in 1921 and his brother in 1923, but the mill passed out of existence during the first World War.

            Mr. and Mrs. Nairn were parents of six children, all of whom are dead.  Mr. Nairn died at his home in Lakeport Township April 11, 1894, and Mrs. Nairn died at Salix July 17, 1909, at the age of 82 years.

            Today even much of the land where the mighty forest stood as disappeared.  The Missouri River just flows over the spot where John Nairn built the first sawmill and the Glover family has been forced to retreat eastward three times as the river nibbled off more and more of the land they cleared.

            Trees still grow between the towns and the river, but most of them are small and the plants are too widely scattered to make lumbering worthwhile.  All that remains of the once large industry are the memories in the minds of a few who watched the rise and fall of the lumber kinds.


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