Titanic: Made With West Virginia Timber

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WVTitantic
Photo description provided by Mackey’s Clock Repair: “Loggers posing in front of a giant tree later used in the building of the Titanic, near Curtin, Nicholas County, W.Va. in 1890”

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Despite being branded as ‘wild and wonderful,’ the sad reality is that West Virginia’s present-day forests are but a frail shell of what was once a majestic and unimaginably dense woodland — a vast and mysterious expanse which both sweetened and haunted the dreams of many early settlers.

One of the earliest men to write of the state’s ancient forests was a surveyor by the name of George Washington.

On November 4, 1770, while plotting the Kanawha River, he wrote in his journal, “Just as we came to the hills, we met with a Sycamore… of a most extraordinary size, it measuring three feet from the ground, forty-five feet round, lacking two inches; and not fifty yards from it was another, thirty-one feet round.”

Bill Grafton, president of the West Virginia Native Plant Society stated, “In Pre-Colonial times, the 15 million acres of West Virginia were almost entirely forested.”

The trees, centuries-old colossal mammoths, towered proudly over the Mountain State — standing like skyscrapers of the ancient world, reigning for thousands of years over the majestic and unconquerable land. Older than the Mayflower, many of West Virginia’s white oak and hemlock trees were more than half-a-millennium old – an unimaginable spectacle for the European colonists who first laid eyes on the trees.

As their Native American predecessors who first inhabited the land, the early colonists who topped the mountain ridges which had protected the enchanted land for ages, lacked the resources or will to destroy the hallowed trees of old.

Unfortunately, within a few generations, the western world had been thrust into an era which came to be known as the Industrial Revolution; soon, man’s appetite for tangible goods had reached a level that had previously been unthinkable.

Seeking to profit from society’s thirst for stuff, sawmills sprang up throughout the mountains of the newly created state, as armies of rough, strong and desperate men set out, hewing down the ancient landmarks of old.  The workers themselves were not villains, but immigrants, laborers, husbands and fathers of hungry children; unaware of their own strength.

By 1920, the state, which is now celebrated for its natural beauty, had been reduced to an abhorrent desert, more closely resembling a bombed wasteland than a mountain wonderland described as being “almost heaven.”

For the first time in its history, West Virginia was viewed as an eyesore. One visiting writer described the state as “a monotonous panorama of destruction.”

Recognizing the dangers wrought by absentee landownership and unregulated devouring of the state’s forests, West Virginia leaders would move, in the coming years, to reforest the mountains which lay between the Old Dominion and the Ohio River.

By 2000, their efforts had been deemed a success, as the state had reforested itself and boasted of more forestland than it had seen in over a century.

Though the era of rampant deforestation is a major blight in the magnificent state’s history, the undeniable reality is that West Virginia’s trees were the building material of America as we know it. With a single tree yielding over 10,000 oak boards, it would be impossible to determine the number of churches, home places, courthouses and ships which were made from West Virginia lumber. One thing we are certain about, however, is that the 46,328-ton HMS Titanic, which sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, carried with it sawed planks of the giant tree pictured above — hewed down in Nicolas County, West Virginia.

West Virginia is a proud state, and by right ought to be — for no other state can boast of having literally made America, and modern-day Western Civilization, as West Virginia can.

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22 COMMENTS

    • My understanding of it is that it is somewhere near the area of the Horseshoe bend Leaving Craigsville towards Richwood there is a sign and an overlook but it doesn’t mention this.

  1. Hey guess what…WV is still being turned into a bombed desert wasteland..literally…by mountaintop removal which has made much more of a problem than the logging of days gone bye.

    • If people in our state would see the aerial photos of how much is gone they would be outraged. There is so much gone that is just not visible from the road.

  2. When the Elk River RR operated from 1996-1999, we had a red oak tree fall across the tracks. It was over 4 feet thick and so heavy an 8 foot section required pulling with the locomotive to clear the track. I counted the rings easily found that night, revealing it to be over 240 years old. The monster shown above was easily a millennium tree.

    • There is Curtin,WV in Webster County on the Elk River but there is also Curtin,WV in Nicholas County where the Cherry River flows into the Gauley River. Curtin in Nicholas County is where the tree came from that supplied some lumber for the Titanic ( At least that is what l hear from the local historian)

  3. I’m proud to say was my great grandpa Bud Spencer that helped cut the giant hemlock that went to help build the handrail on the grand staircase on board the Titanic.

  4. I have been told that the wood used in the stairs on the Titanic came from the mill in Maben, West Virginia.

  5. This photo is of a California redwood. Research of photo archives has revealed that many of the images of WV’s large trees, especially the famed Leadmine White Oak in Tucker County, are infact photos made in Humbolt California and not WV. I and a US forest Service research forester have found the original negatives which prove that these monstrous trees seen in countless histories since Roy Clarkson ‘s 1960s book Tumult on the Mountain are not of WV trees but Redwoods. We will be publishing these findings in an upcoming Society of American Foresters article.

  6. This photo is of a California redwood. Research of photo archives has recently revealed that many of the images thought to be of WV giant trees are infact photos taken of redwood logging in Humbolt California and not WV. I and a fellow USFS research forester will be publishing these findings in an upcoming Society of American Foresters article.

    • Rob Whetsell: Before you publish–you should visit Richwood, WV. There are many such photos posted there showing the Titanic tree. My great great uncle James Garfield Spencer (Bud) was one of the timbermen. As I said better visit before you publish for your own creditability. Kim Spencer Flare apparently can also verify.

    • Rob,the picture shown here is not the correct picture of the giant Hemlock tree that was harvested near Crupperneck Bend in Nicholas County. The correct picture can be viewed on Facebook at Nicholas County Genealogy and People. It shows the actual tree and has the names of the lumberjacks who cut it down.

  7. I, too, have always heard that the staircase on the Titanic came from Maben. The sawmill there was the largest in the world. Ritter Lumber Co. I counted rings on a huge white oak that fell. It was standing when Columbus landed in the new world.

    • My grandfather, Charles Lewis Whitlow, worked for W. M. Ritter Lumber Co. about 20 years at various saw milling operations in NC, VA & WV. His last position was at Maben, WV (Wyoming Co.) His children were born at various sites where he was employed- Hurley, VA, on Knox Creek, Mortimer and Globe, NC and then Maben, WV where he managed the company store. He left Ritter around 1915 and moved to Mullens, where he and a Mr. Bill Lewis formed a partnership and opened their own mercantile called Whitlow & Lewis. After only a year of so, he sold his half of the business to Mr. Lewis. He packed up his family, leased a box car on the Virginian Railway and shipped everything to Kellysville, WV, where his mother and four brothers lived. He farmed for a year and then established his mercantile, C. L. Whitlow & Co. which he operated from 1918 until 1944. He was also the Postmaster at Kellysville much of this same time. Then the Post Office was located in one corner of the store.

  8. Comments about fracking and ruining the county side….i understand the reasoning. BUT fracking has had a big part in reduced gas/fuel prices in America… I know America could do this or that to reduce gas/fuel prices but fracking is another way we can add to our other options for resources. The way I see this is everything in moderation… Yes moderation…a way we can help ourselves and future generations to keep a sensible cost to our resources …as long as its in moderation. Raping the land? No i do not agree with it. Something that is here on earth we should use until technology is advanced enough to support us other wise…windmills,solar,etc. Coal,trees and now fracking is a big part of WV. I myself have seen the war on coal and lost my job and now work in the gas industry (not fracking) so i think if everything is done in moderation it will be good for us and our country. My 2 cents anyway and it doesn’t count for much. thanks!

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