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The Bagdad Lumber Mill
Bagdad's Lumber Mill
Joseph Forsyth and the Simpson brothers built new sawmill facilities in the early 1840's at the southern terminus of the Arcadia railroad where Pond Creek flowed into the Blackwater River.
After Forsyth's death in 1855, the company was reorganized to become the E. E. Simpson & Company. In their partnership, Andrew and Ezekiel Simpson, Benjamin Overman, James Creary, and Benjamin Thompson built an outstanding mill.
Five gangs of saws, with one to ten saws per gang, ran at the mill turning out 20,000 board feet of lumber per day. The Bagdad mill ran on steam burning sawdust refuse to power the giant steam engine. Since the water at Bagdad was brackish, engineers built a system of wooden pipes to carry fresh water from upstream to the mill's steam engines. Enormously successful, according to the 1860 census, the Bagdad mill annually produced over $250,000 of mill products and employed 150 workers.
Since water was the cheapest, as well as the only practical means of getting the lumber to market, shipping activity created a demand in Bagdad for marine ways, docks, and shipyards. Henry Farley operated marine ways in Bagdad for repairing ships while William Ollinger and Martin Bruce opened a shipyard.
The first years of the Civil War brought new prosperity to Bagdad. The Confederate Navy contracted with the Ollinger & Bruce shipyard to build a 110-foot gunboat and lumber prices remained high. Federal ships, however, soon blockaded Pensacola Bay, depriving the lumbermen access to their former markets.
In March of 1862, Confederate troops were withdrawn from Pensacola. Bagdad industries were torched by the First Regular Florida Volunteers (Beard's Raid) to prevent them from falling into Union hands. Everything that could aid the Union cause was destroyed.
(Above) This January 1890 photo shows the rebuilt Simpson & Co. Front Gang Mill after Beard's raid in 1862. The building was added to a number of times in the ensuing years.
With the end of the war in 1865, anarchy descended upon West Florida. In 1866, Santa Rosa County was placed under martial law by the Federal government. Many people that had fled for their safety returned to the area. Simpson and his partners had kept their fortunes in New York banks, safe from Yankee confiscation and Southern raids. This allowed them to build a new mill upon their return to Bagdad.
Other local businessmen follow Simpson's example and soon industry was up and running. The Ollinger & Bruce Shipyard reopened in 1867, and five years later, the Bagdad Sash & Door Factory resumed production. By the early 1870's, the economy had improved enough for Simpson to build a new gang mill near the Blackwater River and an island mill in the river.
The world-wide demand for yellow pine lumber sparked new prosperity for Bagdad. By 1900, Bagdad's lumber mill had become the largest producer of yellow pine lumber in the world. Simpson & Company was shipping lumber to South America, Italy, England, and Scandinavia as well as New Orleans for domestic consumption.
(Left) This photo shows the mill after the turn of the century. The belfry atop the Simpson & Company Front Gang Mill building is visible in the center. The small building in the foreground is the "Floating Firehouse."
In 1903, Simpson & Company was sold to Thomas R. Lyon of Chicago. The property included over 200,00 acres of timber, 40 miles of log flumes, a railroad, sawmills, drying kilns, planing mills, an electric light plant, and a fleet of small boats. Lyon formed a syndicate in Chicago which operated the firm under the name of the Stearns & Culver Lumber Company.
The new management began an aggressive modernization program. New houses were built for superintendents and workers. Logging efficiency increase enormously with the extension of the corporation's railroad line to the northern Santa Rosa town of Munson and the completion of an elevated monorail tramway for moving lumber at the Bagdad mill. By 1910, the corporation employed almost 1,000 men.
Between 1903 and 1922, the Stearns & Culver Lumber Company changed its name twice as the Chicago syndicate changed ownership. First it was called the Bagdad Lumber Company and then the Bagdad Land & Lumber Company.
(Above) This enormous shed system at the Bagdad Lumber Company was equipped with chutes for loading lumber onto barges.
In 1922, a consortium of Florida lumbermen purchased the firm. Principal stockholders were W. B. Harbeson, J. D. Henderson, and Grover O. Waits. The new owners faced a serious depletion of timber stock and immediately began to plant new pine trees. The company also operated an extensive naval stores business. With over a million turpentine faces, it was the largest single naval stores producer in the United States.
About 1930, the Bagdad Land & Lumber Company purchased the Axelson Tract, which was the largest and finest stand of long leaf pines left in the United States. This area was soon depleted of trees for logging, forcing the company to sell its assets in 1939 and go out of business. On April 18, 1939, the last log was sawed at the Bagdad mill.
(Above) Pictured is the timber pen where lumber was dogged and locked together with spikes and chains.
The Federal government purchased most of the cut-over lands at the instigation of Governor Millard Caldwell. Later, Governor Caldwell and Congressman Bob Sikes arranged the transfer of the property to state ownership where it became the Blackwater River State Forest. After 111 years as a mill town, Bagdad passed into private ownership.
(Above) The Front Gang Mill at the Bagdad Land & Lumber Company housed machinery used in lumbering. The 'gang mill' shown here was one of their sawing machines consisting of a heavy frame supporting numerous saw blades.
(Below) Pictured here are the African-Americans who worked alongside other ethnic groups at the Bagdad Land & Lumber Company. For over a century, it was the residence and workers that made Bagdad a once-thriving mill town known for its fine grade of yellow heart pine lumber.
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