“The Southern Forest Heritage Museum, located in Long Leaf, Louisiana, is the oldest complete sawmill facility in the South. This complex is unique in that it is a complete sawmill complex dating from the early 20th century, and that it has the most complete collection of steam-powered logging and milling equipment known to exist. The museum is spread over a 57 acre area. On the property is the commissary, providing an entrance to the museum, the Planer Mill, the Planer Mill Power Plant, the Water Pumping Station, the Round House, the Machine Shop, the Car-knocker Shop, the Sawmill, the Sawmill Power Plant, and Storage Sheds. Railroad equipment that can be seen at the museum includes three locomotives, a McGiffert Loader, and a rare Clyde Rehaul Skidder. In addition, one can see many artifacts that were left in place when the mill closed February 14, 1969.”
The above paragraph comes from the opening page of the museum’s website. These words don’t come close to describing all there is to see at this place. The mill complex was family owned and operated as the Crowell Long Leaf Lumber Company. As stated above, the operation started in the early part of the 20th century, and abruptly shut down one day in 1969. What is really unique about this is the way many ongoing activities there were literally caught in time when this happened. To me, the most obvious thing was the logging flat car under construction in the car shops. The partially constructed car is still sitting there exactly as it was left in 1969 when everyone walked away!
The mill complex is relatively complete. The sawmill, planer mill, kilns, boiler house, sorting sheds…all are still there. Some of the machinery still operates. Originally the mill was steam powered, and there is an elaborate system of shafts, pulleys and belts to operate the equipment. In later years, the mill converted to electric motor power, but the belt and pulley infrastructure is all still there.
Parked under a big sorting shed is an array of vehicles and machinery that were used by the company: trucks, lumber carriers, fire break machines, bulldozers, and much more.
Of course, for me, the crown jewels are the remnants from the logging operation. The Crowell family owned and operated the Red River and Gulf Railroad, and three steam locomotives are still on the property. The roundhouse (which is actually a rectangular engine house), the car shop and other facilities are all open for inspection. There are a couple logging cars, a pair of McGiffert loaders (one of which is being restored), and the Clyde skidder. The skidder is unusual in that it is double ended, with a centrally mounted boiler, and operating machinery on either end. Even the vast array of “junk” scattered in the nearby woods is interesting. There are pieces and parts of all sorts of machinery, and the remains of several steam locomotives that were scrapped, including some Shays.
The museum folks have been slowly, but surely stabilizing the property from further deterioration, and have been doing a limited amount of restoration work. The mill superintendent’s house has become the museum office, and the company store has been restored and is used as the entry point, museum and gift shop for the complex. The original trackage at the back and side of the property has been extended and now forms a loop around the perimeter, where rides are occasionally offered on the company’s speeders or their recently acquired motor car. The motor car, numbered M-4, was formerly operated by the Fernwood, Columbia and Gulf Railroad, and was donated to the museum by Louis Saillard. It is in operation, and is being restored, bit by bit, to its original glory.
I could write pages about this place, but it really has to be visited to be fully appreciated. It is a great way to spend a day (and it will take that long to really see everything at a leisurely pace). Long Leaf is located about 24 miles south of Alexandria, Louisiana. The town of Forest Hill is just a few miles north.
Here’s a link to their website: