A Bit of Mississippi History - C.M.Carrier’s Lumber and Manufacturing Company and “The Carrier Line”. By David Dickerson
Before railroad development opened up the region, the area known as the Mississippi Delta was covered in virgin hardwood forests. The area between the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers, and between Memphis and Vicksburg is generally a flat alluvial flood plain interspersed with many meandering rivers and bayous. Even though there were some cotton plantations in the region, it wasn’t until the building of the railroads that region began to develop. The Illinois Central mainline between Jackson, Grenada and Memphis skirted well east of the delta region. The Louisville, New Orleans & Texas RR was built through the heart of the region in 1882-4, and acquired by IC subsidiary Yazoo & Mississippi Valley in 1892. Y&MV built a network of branch lines throughout the delta. As railroads were built in the region, timberland was bought by lumber companies and sawmills built in the region. Land was cleared and cotton planted in the rich soil in the region. Few people today realize the area once was home to many sawmills and logging railroads.
The Sardis and Delta Railroad was one such line that was built as a logging railroad. The owners came south to Mississippi as the great white pine and hemlock forests of the northeast were depleted. Even though the railroad lasted almost 30 years, far longer than most logging railroads in the region, it eventually met the same fate as the rest after the timber was cut.
The story begins as C. M. Carrier’s hemlock sawmill at Carrier, Pennsylvania, cut out and closed in 1897. As an investment, Carrier purchased a tract of 35,000 acres of hardwood timber land in Panola and Quitman Counties, Mississippi. After a cruise was made to determine the value and quality of the timber, Carrier decided to build a sawmill to cut this timber instead of selling it as originally planned. The business was known as C. M. Carrier & Son. A single band sawmill was built on the south side of Sardis, a town on the Illinois Central mainline. This mill opened in September 1901, and had a capacity of 60,000 feet of lumber per day. The plant also had the standard auxiliary equipment- a planing mill, dry kiln, and electric light plant. Later a hardwood flooring factory, veneer mill, and box factory were added.
As the timber was located in the flat bottoms several miles west of Sardis, a railroad was necessary to bring the logs to the sawmill. The Sardis & Delta Railroad was incorporated on December 13, 1900, and built westward to the timber holdings in 1901-2. The railroad’s capital stock of $100,000 was issued to the parent lumber company in payment for the property. The standard gauge railroad was built westward through rolling hills as economically as possible to reach the edge of the company timber holdings in the flat delta. With a minimum of grading, the line was curvy and hilly. Grades on this section were up to 2 per cent. The railroad was laid with new 60-pound rail. Ballast was minimal- dirt with a few stretches of cinder ballast. A logging camp was built at Baptist, in the hills on the edge of the delta, to avoid the mosquitoes prevalent in the swampy areas in the delta.
The lumber company was officially incorporated as C. M. Carrier & Co. in early February 1903. A year later R. M. Carrier, J. A. Reichman, and W. B. Burke bought the interest of C. M. Carrier. In 1905 R. M. Carrier bought out his associates, and the name of the company was changed to Carrier Lumber & Manufacturing Co. R. M. Carrier served as president; A. P. Steele, secretary, and T. B. McCormick, general manager.
By 1908, the railroad equipment of the Sardis & Delta consisted of 3 locomotives, 60 log cars, 1 coach, and 3 flat cars. The railroad extended 28 miles to a point known as Red Gum. Two short branches extended from Red Oak to Dye and from Burke Jct. to Eckles, each being about two and a half miles long. Logging spurs were built from connections with the Sardis & Delta into company timber holdings. The lumber company used oxen, horses, and mules in logging operations, along with two Lidgerwood combination skidder-loaders. The company was cutting cypress, oak, ash, gum, and hickory. In 1913, the company purchased a 3-drum skidder from Clyde Iron Works. A McGiffert loader was bought from the same firm in 1920. By 1917, the mill capacity had been increased to 75,000 feet per day, and a large logging camp was built at Lake Carrier, 21 miles from Sardis.