The Francis Marion National Forest to the south of Georgetown has been great source of timber for more than a century.
In 1899, a group of Northern lumber surveyors discovered this massive forest and founded the Atlantic Coast Lumber Company. They built a large sawmill west of the city and incorporated their business in 1903. The company released ACL trade tokens, which was a private currency commonly used in South Carolina during the 1800s and 1900s (read more about the history of tokens in South Carolina.)
The mill thrived and built two shipping wharves, three sawmills, and many warehouses. An area called ‘New Town‘ was formed along Fraser Street, and it had stores, a church, and identical housing for mill workers. The primary shipping wharf was the largest in the world. To build such a prominent wharf required tons of rock to be moved to Georgetown’s jetties in the harbor, as well as a tremendous amount of dredging for the channel.
By 1914, the mill was the largest manufacturing plant on the Atlantic coast and went strong until the Great Depression, which forced the plant to close in 1932.
Over time, the economy and the lumber trade improved. Since two-thirds of South Carolina is covered by forest, it is an essential part of our economy, and has an annual value of $835 million. South Carolina forests are treasured for their Southern yellow pine, which is the hardest of the commercially available softwoods, and is known for its strength, treatability, and beautiful finish.
Georgetown produced $48 million worth of lumber in 2003. But again, the town finds itself in another economic slump. Much of the timber harvest goes to the housing industry, which has had a remarkable slowdown since 2008. In addition to fewer homes being built, South Carolina’s drought conditions have affected the amount of harvest, because a lack of rainfall can cut a tree’s growth rate in half. The South Carolina Forestry Commission estimated a possible loss of $337 million dollars statewide in 2007.
See a bird’s-eye view of the Georgetown lumber era.