Masonite Corporation Original Plant


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“Never hesitate to go into debt for something worthwhile.” – William H. Mason


In the early years of the twentieth century, the lumber industry as a whole faced a serious downturn. Vast areas of virgin forests had been clearcut to supply timber, but even with replanting, trees of a viable size would take generations to regrow. The timber industry’s might was waning, and all timber companies were left with was sawdust.

Sawdust from timber production actually accounted for nearly thirteen percent of any finished lumber product. This waste eventually became a commodity unto itself, serving to power various industrial processes at several local businesses. However, no matter how efficiently it was used, its existence served to highlight the waste inherent in the milling process.


Around this same time, a young engineer named William Horatio Mason proposed to his fiancé, the daughter of a timber land baron. Mason was a Virginia native who was educated at Cornell, and at the time of his engagement and subsequent marriage, was working as an apprentice of Thomas Edison.

After his apprenticeship, Mason worked in a shipyard during WWI, and became interested in the technical properties, applications, and potential of wood, especially when exposed to steam. His interest morphed into a fascination with lumber production, and specifically the sheer amount of waste generated. He conducted a series of experiments, eventually uncovering a means to extract turpentine from lumber, thus reducing waste and allowing the end result to be sold for shipbuilding purposes — “naval stores”.

He presented his idea to the owners of the Wausau-Southern Lumber Company — relatives of his wife — who agreed to allow him to test his processes in their Laurel mill. His methods proved so successful that the company converted several of their traditional kilns to this process and exponentially expanded Mason’s business, and their own.

He then turned his attention to a similar problem: extracting rosin from low quality pine lumber. Using a similar methodology, Mason proved that his processes could take 15,000 board feet of lumber containing turpentine and rosin — officially waste products of the lumber industry — and turn them into usable products for naval application, all the while improving the quality of the lumber being treated.

The process ultimately paid for itself and then some, earning Mason local and national recognition.

As with most business ventures, timing is everything. While Mason’s achievements were monumental, they weren’t sustainable. Shipbuilding, the primary market for the turpentine and rosin Mason extracted, was dying off, and the timber industry was facing a shortage of pine in the coming years. His solutions seemed to appear as the need was waning.


Faced with declining markets for his new industry, Mason searched for another means to generate revenue for himself and his Wausau-Southern backers. He entrusted the day to day operations of his extraction mills to his former colleague and fellow Edison mentee, Charles Westphalen, and turned his attention to back to invention.

His original curiosity about the effects of steam on wood had led to his innovative extraction process, but he wasn’t satisfied that the potential had truly been explored. He began testing a combination of steam and pressure on rough wood chips — essentially the litter from hauling, planing, and finishing lumber — and discovered that they could be broken down into wood fibers.

Those, he could work with.

Ever the showman, Mason knew that he had to sell his new product idea to his Wausau financiers. He killed two birds with one stone, creating a pressure chamber to facilitate the process in the form of a small cannon, which was guaranteed to make an impression on his audience.

The “gun”, created by Laurel Machine and Foundry, was comprised of a fifteen inch steel shaft with a three inch diameter. One end fit into a valve in the barrel, and a fitting in the shaft read the internal temperature. The shaft was then loaded with wood chips and water and heated to 480 degrees, producing roughly 600 pounds of pressure per square inch. When the “trigger” — the pressure valve — was pulled, the force sparked an explosion that resulted in Mason’s new wood fiber product.


The true test of Mason’s new process came in 1924, when he and Charles Westphalen traveled to present their ideas to the Wausau-Southern investors. Without seeing the product or Mason’s showy process, the investors agreed to provide the funds for Mason’s continued research and testing as long as they retained all patent rights.

Once the deal had been agreed upon, Mason and Westphalen returned to Laurel, inviting their backers to visit their investment in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the endeavored to build a new “gun” — a bigger and better version that would be impressive to investors, as well as create more product per load. They used engines from steam-powered automobiles — now an obsolete means of personal transportation — to create the steam and pressure needed for the transformation of wood to fibers.

After extending the invitation and agreeing upon the dates their investors would be in Laurel, Mason and Westphalen encountered an issue in their construction. The car engines they’d used to create the larger gun were old, which meant that they leaked and could not retain the pressure needed to convert the wood chips into fibers as in Mason’s original design. Rather than admit defeat, Mason decided that they would just fake the demonstration and rebuild the gun later — after the investors left Laurel.

The day of the demonstration arrived, and the eager investors gathered in Mason’s lab. The “gun” was loaded, the shot fired, and the investors awed by the blast. At this point, Mason reportedly yelled, “Success with the first shot!” His outburst and the explosion allowed Westphalen time to enter the testing chamber and cherry-pick the best sample — not the entirety of the contents of the barrel — to show investors.

Since the investors were never close enough to the load to know the difference between input and output, they only saw what Mason and Westphalen wanted them to see — the showy demonstration and the impressive final product.

The investors were convinced, and continued their funding of Mason’s research. However, the question of utility was raised. What did Mason intend to do with these wood fibers he’d created? How could they be used to generate revenue for the company?


The question of the product’s purpose required almost as much research and testing as its creation. Paper products seemed the logical choice for the wood fiber, but all tests in this vein failed; paper made from the fibers was weak and substandard. Mason moved on to creating pressed insulation board, but found his equipment wasn’t powerful enough to create the sturdy building material he desired.

Undeterred, he shipped a train car of his fiber material to the Marathon Paper Mill in Wisconsin, convinced that their larger, steam-powered presses would do what his equipment could not. Through repeated testing and tinkering, he discovered that the fibers could be made more sturdy, but he hadn’t found the right combination of variables to result in industry-level strength.

Sometimes a fluke results in the greatest forward progress. This was such an occasion for William Mason. While working with the paper mill’s presses, Mason had loaded the steam press with fibers for an experiment he planned to conduct after he returned from lunch. He turned the machine’s pressure valve off, and left.

Unbeknownst to Mason, the pressure valve was faulty. Rather than remaining off and holding the pressure constant, the valve allowed steam into the chamber with the wood fibers, creating a reaction that lasted for the entirety of Mason’s lengthy lunch break.

When Mason returned, he found that the faulty press had created a much stronger board from his fibers than any of his extensive testing had yet produced. Further testing was conducted on the board, and revealed that the new board was stronger than the original wood from which it was created. Mason had invented a product, made from lumber waste, that was stronger than the original timbers it was comprised of. He named the revolutionary new product after himself — “Masonite”.

William Mason Inspecting Masonite Fabrication Process

William Mason Inspecting Masonite Fabrication Process, Property of Lauren Rogers Museum of Art


Wausau rightfully recognized Mason’s achievement as a potential industry disruptor, but they knew they needed help to fund and market the product. They approached Eastman Gardiner as partners in 1925, and with their help, the Mason Fiber Company was born. Charles Green, of Eastman Gardiner, was installed as the company’s president, and Mason took on the title of vice president but remained firmly ensconced in research and development, his primary passions.


Masonite Brochure

Masonite Brochure, Property of Lauren Rogers Museum of Art


Unwittingly, the Mason Fiber Company — eventually renamed Masonite — became one of the chief reforestation and conservation proponents in the Piney Woods. It encouraged replanting and reforestation on the bare landscape, offering free education and advice to farmers willing to make an investment in timber.

The company’s attitude toward resource management encouraged a culture of research and conservation that extended into the civic realms of Laurel, effectively changing how the city interacted with its industrial residents.


Masonite Plant

Masonite Plant, Property of Lauren Rogers Museum of Art

Times Picayune Article on Masonite

Times Picayune Article on Masonite, Property of Lauren Rogers Museum of Art



William H. Mason was an inventor and a visionary, and while not a native of Laurel, spent most of his life here. His true passion lay in finding ways to reduce the environmental footprint of the behemoth lumber industry, and create products from their cast offs with relevant uses to the wider market. He reinvented himself time and again: refusing to accept failure or even complacency; throwing himself into new challenges with tenacity; wrestling with every problem until it was solved.

Mason, along with our founders, John Lindsey, Catherine Gardiner, and a host of other leaders, visionaries, and makers, represent the spirit of our City Beautiful. Laurel is complicated, enigmatic, and at times, downright unruly. But she is also steadfast, enduring, and endlessly hopeful.

Laurel was brought into this world on the screaming rails of a lumber company train, her birth heralded by the smell of smoke, sap, and sweat. One hundred thirty-five years later, she stands again at the crossroads of progress and possibility, facing our generation with a legacy of innovation, imagination, and hope.

We have a lot to live up to.

Mason Park


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“What artist so noble … as he who, with far-reaching conception of beauty, in designing power, sketches the outlines, writes the colors, and directs the shadows of a picture so great that Nature shall be employed upon it for generations, before the work he arranged for her shall realize his intentions.” – Frederick Law Olmstead



Clearing the timber in and around the Laurel area raised some unanticipated questions. Namely, what were residents going to do with all that barren land?

Once the trees were gone, Laurel and Jones County became a landscape of gently rolling hills, low vegetation, and exposed creeks and tributaries. The rural areas turned back to agriculture, raising crops where timber stands once reached skyward. The city, however, had grown up so quickly in the absence of pines that green space was becoming scarce, or privately held.

There were two schools of thought in town about what to do about the newly barren landscape. Both focused primarily on entertainment, but with an altruistic twist.



Incorporated in 1905, Laurel’s Tallahoma Club was among the first, and proved to be the most enduring, of the exclusive social clubs that arose in the period of wealth following the lumber boom. Although chartered and manned by the social elite, the Tallahoma Club acted as an civic organization aimed at elevating the educational and cultural opportunities of Laurel’s residents.

Their chief contribution to these topics was their engagement with the Chautauqua Movement. These assemblies were created in upstate New York in 1874, in the form of “adult summer schools” that trained Sunday School teachers and other religious leaders, but the format became so popular that the “classes” were expanded to include a wide variety of topics. Culture-hungry, but highly isolated, populations across the country represented a huge demand for this type of religious, theatrical, musical, and political content. Unable to ignore the willing audiences offered in return for their travel, circuits were created for teachers and talent, and the itinerant Chautauqua Movement was born.

In the early twentieth century, the Tallahoma Club sponsored many “circuit” Chautauqua performances. Under its roof, Laurel saw her share of informative, provocative, and sometimes audacious, subject matter. Independently of the Chautauqua assemblies, local and regional acts and speakers passed through, each offering both education and entertainment to Laurel’s residents.

However, the most enduring legacy of the Tallahoma Club is actually credited to its successor, the Laurel Country Club. In 1917, a faction of the Tallahoma Club broke away to form the more elite Laurel Country Club, securing the club’s status as the oldest country club in Mississippi. The club shifted its focus to recreation, landing on the novel sport of golf. Golf was becoming a popular American pastime in larger, more metropolitan areas, and not to be outdone, our founding families took an interest. Since golf originated in Scotland, they invited a renowned Scottish golfer and course designer, Seymour Dunn, to visit Laurel and map the Club’s course. Dunn was known for integrating the natural terrain into his designs, building his courses around the features already present in the landscape.

“There is no hard and fast rule governing the length of all holes, in fact, a chief object in planning golf courses is to have no two holes alike in either length or character. They are laid out according to the natural undulation of the land, and such things as ditches, ponds, sand holes, roads, etc., are all considered and utilized as hazards.” – Seymour Dunn

The course was completed in 1919, and Dunn’s creation stood apart from any other course of its day. According to local stories, professional golfers of the time named it one of the most challenging courses in the country. The Laurel Country Club held its first tournament on Valentines Day, 1920, and has been in continuous operation ever since.

The Tallahoma Club

The Tallahoma Club, Property of Lauren Rogers Museum of Art


Excerpt from Seymour Dunn's golf instruction

Excerpt from Seymour Dunn’s golf instruction, Property of


Laurel Country Club’s fairways weren’t the only greens our town founders were interested in growing; Catherine Gardiner’s City Beautiful aspirations extended far beyond the architecture of Laurel’s residential district. Determined that Laurel shouldn’t lack for any hallmark of a metropolitan area, the founding families commissioned the firm of Fredrick Law Olmstead to create a park system that spanned from Second Avenue to Thirteenth Avenue and gave Laurel’s residential district residents easy access to green space.

Olmstead, the “father of American Architecture” was a landscape architect who’d gained national acclaim for his design of Central Park, in New York City, and the grounds of the US Capitol Building, in Washington, D.C. Olmstead believed, like Dunn, that the natural landscape should dictate as much of the design as possible, with planned interventions that enhance the experience of the user but don’t draw attention to any individual detail. Olmstead’s aesthetic could best be described as pastoral, favoring large expanses of green space and lush undergrowth that instilled the viewer with feelings of peace and calm.

He built a firm of like-minded landscape architects who focused on the long term effects of their designs, planning for future generations and the longevity of the ecosystem as much as they designed for their client. While Olmstead passed away before Laurel’s parkway system was envisioned, his firm, led by his two sons, followed his primary design tenets in designing Laurel’s first two parks — Gardiner Park and Euclid Avenue Park. Later, in 1929, additional parks were proposed: Daphne Park; Mason (originally named Cherokee) Park; and two parks that were never built, between 5th and 7th Streets and at the corner of Thirteenth Avenue and Jefferson Street. Laurel’s parkway system was meticulously maintained for years, and led to nationwide distinctions by the National Recreation Association.

Proposed Laurel Parkway Additions, 27 Nov 1929, Page 5 - The Morning Call, Property of

Proposed Laurel Parkway Additions, 27 Nov 1929, Page 5 – The Morning Call, Property of

Early Photo of Mason Park, Courtesy of Jackie Lynch Perkinson

Early Photo of Mason Park, Courtesy of Jackie Lynch Perkinson




Both of Laurel’s celebrated greens – her formidable golf course and her historic parkway system – outlived their patrons and their designers, but achieved their intended purposes. The marks left in Laurel’s landscape by these visionary naturalists serve as a reminder that something beautiful can come from barrenness.


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Catherine Gardiner


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“Although things are a bit crude, the people are real neighborly.”

– Catherine Gardiner, 1891



Catherine Gardiner was a force to be reckoned with. 

Uprooted from her comfortable and familiar life in Iowa, Catherine followed her husband, albeit rather unwillingly, to a home in the Piney Woods.  While her husband helped build the economy of Laurel through the Eastman Gardiner Lumber Company, Catherine worked to build the culture.

The timber industry and its relatively stable jobs caused a small population boom in Laurel, and in the absence of a formal city planner, Catherine stood in the gap.  The City Beautiful movement – an architectural and aesthetic revival that advocated for the beautification of cities to promote social order and civic virtue – had taken root in several large, metropolitan cities, and found a staunch supporter in Catherine Gardiner.  Refusing to accept that Laurel was too small for such grand plans, Catherine worked in earnest over several years to lay the foundation for a town that, in Laurel society minds, could become the next state capital.

She began by planning the residential area adjacent to the burgeoning business district, basing her street layout (and the property values that went along with them) on her experiences up North.  From First to Seventh Avenues, she ascribed meaning to each tract of land, creating generous lanes lined with young oak trees.  The lumber barons — the high society of the time — lived on Fifth Avenue in an echo of the wealth and splendor of New York City’s Fifth Avenue.  Their employees lived on parallel streets; managers lived on Fourth Avenue, and foremen lived on Third Avenue.  First and Second Avenues were home to mill workers.  On the opposite side of the “high” street, Sixth and Seventh Avenues were reserved for wealthy merchants.  Nearly every lot was filled by 1920, ensuring that the architectural integrity of Laurel’s now-historic residential district was protected. 

Into this hierarchy, Catherine worked to infuse culture.  She commissioned a series of parks, gave generously to social clubs looking to promote education and well-being, and promoted various traveling theater groups and lecture series.  Her family spearheaded an educational overhaul, bringing in R.H. Watkins, a Tennessee native and fierce proponent of progressive education.  Their influence and his vision resulted in extreme academic achievement among Laurel’s white high school students, leading a dean of the University of Chicago (Watkins’ alma mater) to state that any graduate of Laurel’s high school would be accepted into the university without an entrance exam.  Catherine’s hand could be seen in almost every progressive cultural endeavor in Laurel in the early twentieth century.  However, her two greatest contributions stemmed from her heart — one as a result of a family tragedy, and one as an impassioned response to societal injustice.

Catherine Gardiner, late 1800s

Catherine Gardiner, late 1800s, Photo Property of Lauren Rogers Museum Archives



Lauren Eastman Rogers, Catherine’s great-nephew, was poised to be the heir to the family fortunes and legacy.  Engaged and planning a family, Lauren Rogers was on the cusp of a promising future in Laurel.  As a wedding gift, his family was building him and his bride-to-be an elaborate home on Fifth Avenue.  However, at the age of twenty-three, Lauren developed acute appendicitis and passed away before the home, or the town’s ambitions for him, had a chance at completion.

The family went into mourning for two long years, leaving the house vacant and half-finished.

Finally, in the face of their pain and dashed hopes, the family rallied and decided to give their heir’s home back to the city in the form of a museum.  The building was completed, and the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art was born.  Catherine, a longtime admirer of Native American art, donated her extensive collection of woven baskets as the first exhibit.  The rest of the family followed suit, donating their art collections, and additional  pieces have been added over the years.  The museum now boasts works by Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and a myriad of other influential artists of the last two centuries.

Lauren Eastman Rogers

Lauren Eastman Rogers, Property of Lauren Rogers Museum Archives

Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Under Construction

Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Under Construction, Property of Lauren Rogers Museum Archives

Lauren Rogers Museum of Art

Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Property of Lauren Rogers Museum Archives



The museum seemed to reinvigorate Catherine, and she jumped back into social life, and her cultural pursuits, with a vengeance.  By this time, Laurel’s black middle class was thriving.  The higher wages offered to African American workers by Eastman Gardiner had opened the door to more opportunity for Laurel’s African American community.  This came during a time when black workers in other parts of the country, and especially Mississippi, were earning a fraction of Eastman Gardiner’s pay.  Within the progressive bubble of Laurel, this rapidly growing middle class was working to offer educational opportunities to black students by raising money for the school the community had created.

Catherine’s involvement came later, after she read a New York Sun article that stated that African American schools received only a quarter of the funding of white schools.  Determined not to let this injustice continue in Laurel under her watch, she went to the leaders of the black community and pledged ten thousand dollars toward the building of a new school and the employment of top-tier educators, asking that the community match her contribution.  The community response was overwhelming, and the process was set in motion.  Private donors offered the land, a bond issue was passed, and these, combined with the funds donated by Catherine and the black community, served to erect a new educational complex for African American students.

Oak Park Vocational School opened in 1928.  Jim Crow was still in full effect, and in order to keep Laurel’s progressive roots intact and stay out of the racially tense public eye, the school officially operated as a vocational center.  However, Oak Park continually attracted talented educators from across the country with competitive wages and academic rigor, and the school grew.  Graduates of Oak Park Vocational School include Ralph Boston, an Olympic medalist; Leontyne Price, a world-renowned opera star; and author Cleveland “Troller” Payne, who still lives in Laurel.  The school operates today as an elementary school in the Laurel City School District.

Oak Park Vocational School

Oak Park Vocational School, Property of Lauren Rogers Museum Archives

Leontyne Price, Renowned Opera Singer

Leontyne Price, Renowned Opera Singer, Photo Property of Lauren Rogers Museum Archives

Ralph Boston, Olympic medalist

Ralph Boston, Olympic medalist, Photo Property of Lauren Rogers Museum Archives

Cleveland Payne, Author

Cleveland Payne, author, Photo Property of


Travel through Laurel’s Historic District, and you’ll see Catherine Gardiner’s vision.  The stately oaks lining the streets; the homes that seem pulled straight from an architectural style textbook; R.H. Watkins (now Laurel High School), the Lauren Rogers Museum, Oak Park School, and all they each represent — all were touched by Catherine, determined to grow our little city through any means available.  There’s an old proverb that says, “Behind every great man is a great woman.”  Catherine would have disagreed.  It was her husband’s decision to move to Mississippi, but once here, she worked beside, not behind, him to make our City Beautiful a wonderful place to call home. 

If only she could see it now.



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Eight-Wheeled Lindsey Wagon


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“Be it known that I, John Lindsey, of Sandersville, in the county of Jones in the State of Mississippi, have invented new and useful Improvements in Vehicles, of which the following is a full, clear, and exact description.” – John Lindsey, patent application for the Lindsey Wagon



Not all of Laurel’s growth, or her accomplishments, can be attributed to our Iowa men. Some of our greatest and most enduring successes were homegrown, and their legacies (and relations) still live on in Laurel today.

John Lindsey was a local, a Sandersville boy, who owned and operated a small mill north of Laurel. Like any small business owner, he found himself stuck in a cycle of competition with operations much larger and better funded than his own. Anything he could do, they could do better. And faster. And cheaper.

Recognizing that his biggest struggle was not the actual milling, but the gathering of the timber, he set about to find a more efficient way to move trees from woods to mill.

The largest lumber operations in the area simply laid railroad tracks into the woods and moved timber via steam power onto trucks, which pulled them back to the mill. Smaller mills didn’t have this luxury. They relied on wagons or skids pulled by teams of livestock, and were limited by the strength of the livestock, the awkwardness of the loads of logs, and the difficult terrain. Most methods of conveyance had only one or two axles, connecting two wheels each, which made for slow going in the Piney Woods.

Redesign of these carts had been attempted, but none were very efficient or very effective. The weight and length of the logs, combined with the uneven ground, made transporting more than two or three logs at a time impossible.

Lindsey knew that there had to be a solution that would be able to carry weight, traverse the difficulties of the woods, and make allowances for the length of the logs. After much research, design, and testing, he created an eight-wheeled wagon that would solve all three of these problems.


The Lindsey Wagon was patented in 1899. It consisted of two “trucks”, each with four wheels, that formed a longer, more agile means to transport the lengthy, heavy timber from the woods. The wagon was ground-breaking, though, because of the design of its system of wheels and axles. Each wheel was connected to the axle, and in turn, the axle to the frame, in such a way that if a single wheel hit a bump, it would lift to navigate the obstacle without putting pressure on the axle. Same with the axle — if both wheels had to cross over some kind of impediment, the axle moved with the wheels without putting stress on the wagon or the load. In addition to these measures assuring vertical and horizontal balance, the two trucks were connected at the center with a triangle shaped frame, allowing for maximum lateral agility. This ensured stability over unstable ground.

Lindsey Eight-Wheeled Wagon

Property of Lauren Rogers Museum Archives

Patent Drawings of the Lindsey Wagon, Page 1

Patent Drawings of the Lindsey Wagon, New Southern View

Patent Drawings of the Lindsey Wagon, Page 2

Patent Drawings of the Lindsey Wagon, New Southern View

Original Lindsey Wagon Co. Ad

Original Lindsey Wagon Co. Ad, courtesy of Sandra Bateman

Lindsey Wagon Co. Payroll Check

Original Lindsey Wagon Co. Payroll Check, courtesy of Sandra Bateman

John partnered with his brother, Dr. S.W. Lindsey, to form the Lindsey Wagon Company. S.W. was a dentist, and he offered his financial backing and business know-how in return for a fifty percent stake in the business. The partnership proved its worth the next year, when Lindsey’s original mill in Sandersville burned, taking the fledgling wagon works with it. The brothers decided to focus solely on the wagon, which was hugely successful with local mill owners, and relocated their shop to the nearby mill town of Laurel.

After incorporating in 1901, the brothers set to work and eventually manufactured several hundred wagons from their new location. They realized that with a ready supply of iron for the wagon components, they could expedite their manufacturing processes, so they set about creating a foundry to supply the shop. In 1904, they incorporated the foundry, and Laurel Machine and Foundry was born.

Laurel Machine and Foundry Workers

Laurel Machine and Foundry Workers, early 1900s, courtesy of Trent Mulloy

LMF Time Book, 1912

Laurel Machine and Foundry Time Book, 1912, courtesy Trent Mulloy


The Lindsey Wagon Company saw great success in the following years, even contributing to the war effort in WWI; the company sent wagons and a sawmill overseas to help build trenches. These contributions also expanded their enterprise, as they picked up European customers in the wake of the war. Demand for Lindsey wagons followed the long arc of timber production, but eventually the brothers’ invention lost traction in the face of newer technology.


The Lindsey brothers left an enduring legacy of innovation, creativity, and ingenuity in Laurel. They were local boys who built two companies from scratch — companies that manufactured lasting products. Their legacy still lives here, too — both in the form of family and an enduring business.  Sandra Bateman, who owns S.D. Bateman Fine Furnishings with her husband Stevie, is the great granddaughter of John Lindsey. Her son, Stevens, and granddaughter, Emma Kate, make up the fifth and sixth generations of the Lindsey family still living in Laurel.

In addition, Laurel Machine and Foundry is still open and thriving.  It was purchased by brothers, Jim Mulloy and Dick Mulloy, in 1911, and is still family owned today, in its fourth generation, by Trent Mulloy.  The foundry has not only facilitated the manufacturing abilities of our little town for over one hundred years, but empowered its legacy of makers — from the Lindsey Brothers, to William Mason, to the more recent Laurel Mercantile.

Laurel’s craftsmen – her guild of creators and makers – have always been the lifeblood of our City Beautiful.  Sometimes all it takes is a need to bring them, quite literally, out of the woodwork.


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Featured image property of New Southern View.

To see the full patent for the Lindsey Wagon, visit New Southern View.


Eastman Gardiner Lumber Company Train


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“The genius of the pioneer lumberman lay in the way he made every improvement in method subserve the character and training of his workers, and every improvement in character of the workers subserve the organic growth of the enterprise.”

– Ethel Puffer Howes, “The Aesthetic Value of Efficiency”, Atlantic Monthly, 1912

The Problem

Lumber camps were not hospitable places.

Camps had the reputation for being chaotic and dangerous. According to the Atlantic Monthly, a popular periodical of the time, it was a common saying that there were always three crews in action at any moment — “…one coming, one going, and one at work.” The general tumult was furthered by the fact that only the workers lived there, and without the critical assessment of their wives or, for the most part, the mill owners, the men drank, gambled, and brawled to their hearts’ content.

The camps were all, at their most common denominator, temporary. Although Eastman Gardiner was on the forefront of lumber milling technology, production operated in such a way that workers were forced to move every few weeks in order to reach the next stand of pine for clearcutting. Railroad tracks were laid as the woods were cut, and heavy equipment, loads of lumber, and railway cars for the workers’ bunks traveled constantly towards the next grove of trees.

The trees were felled, and then towed to trucks, or large carts on the tracks, to be towed down the line back to the mill. The implementation of the skidder, a huge piece of equipment that used a combination of steam power and horses, meant that they could quickly crank in massive logs via cables, to be loaded onto the waiting railway truck using a steam-powered crane. This sped production considerably, which further kept workers on the move. They ate, slept, and toiled beneath the pines for as long as the work held out. They supported, but, by necessity, left behind, wives, children, and extended family — the camp had no place for them.

Eastman Gardiner realized that for workers, these migratory lives with no family connections left men untethered — they were inefficient, prone to violence, and unreliable. After all, the mill owners themselves recognized the absolute importance of family; upon their arrival in Laurel, finding themselves far from home and bound only by their mutual work, our Iowa men quickly made the decision to move their wives and children to the Piney Woods. As they proved again and again, the well being of the community as a whole was their priority.

The problem they faced, though, was how to move women and children into such a transitory environment without affecting the progress of clearcutting. The additional bodies meant additional lodging; traditionally in lumber camps, railway cars were outfitted with rows of bunks, and workers were assigned to a car and a bed. While efficient, this arrangement didn’t lend itself to mixed company. In some places, women and children followed their men into the woods, living in virtual shantytowns along the tracks, but this, too presented issues. Quality of life was low, and the families had to move and rebuild every time production progressed.

The Solution

The solution came in an unexpected form — manufactured housing.

While the idea of manufactured housing wasn’t exactly novel, its application in the lumber industry was. Eastman Gardiner began to produce small, prefabricated pine components that, on site, could be easily assembled to form private homes for the workers and their families. They removed the boxcars formerly used for workers’ bunks, replacing them with the housing units along the tracks.

These homes were completely mobile as well. During construction, holes were drilled in the top and bottom of the unit. On moving day, a steel cable was run through the top and bottom beams, and the steam loader simply picked up the entire unit and placed it on the tracks. Production moved ahead, with everyone in tow.

Once constructed, the units themselves were roughly eighteen feet by six feet, and every worker received between two and six units in which to house his family. When allocated, they received a fresh coat of red paint and a place along the tracks. Workers and their families weren’t asked to pay rent until 1910, when the company began charging $1.50 per unit per month to cover loading, unloading, and transportation costs for the movable mill town.

Moving Day for the Eastman Gardiner Lumber Company

Property Lauren Rogers Museum of Art Archives

Eastman Gardiner Lumber Company community on the tracks

Property Lauren Rogers Museum of Art Archives

Camp Life

As one might imagine, this arrangement drastically changed the environment of the lumber camps. Not only did production improve, but the chaos of the male-driven camp gave way to a more orderly, community-centric atmosphere. In every camp, the routine elements of community life were established; Eastman Gardiner had each camp incorporated as a town under Mississippi law, and men were elected as aldermen and superintendents, to govern the camps from within. The company’s Cohay camp was one of the largest and best examples of the family-oriented camps. It boasted two schools, a hospital, and a Y.M.C.A. that residents used for both secular and religious purposes — all housed in portable units and placed on the tracks on moving day.

Lumber camp life was traditionally viewed as temporary — a temporary job, a temporary town built around that job, and temporary bosses who would eventually leave to return to their homes up North. Eastman Gardiner didn’t want their workers viewing their lives as temporary. Our Iowa men meant to stay, and put down roots, so they wanted their workers to experience the same sense of establishment.

By folding community and family life into the unruliness of the traditionally male-dominated lumber camps, Eastman Gardiner gave their workers a home, albeit one on wheels, and created a completely different way of doing business.

Eastman Gardiner took care of their men, and in return, their men took care of them.



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Eastman-Gardiner Lumber Company Office Building, circa 1925


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South Mississippi heat was nothing to be trifled with. Even in spring, the temperature and humidity ensured damp handkerchiefs and sweat rings in collars. The joke in the camp was, at the end of the day, you’d have as many rings around your collar as months you’d been shorted pay.


In the late 1800s, gold was easy to come by. Our currency was one of relatively few in the world still backed by the gold standard – meaning, theoretically, you could trade in your paper money for its value in gold. Because of this, it was seen as safe for international companies and governments to invest in American businesses. However, in 1893, several catastrophic crop losses and a military coup in Central America convinced European investors that their money was safer weighing down their pockets as gold, rather than propping up businesses on the American continent. They started a run on gold from the US Treasury that resulted in the near collapse of the gold standard and a four year economic depression. The country faced a forced deflation of currency, the closing of thousands of businesses, a steep rise in unemployment, and, eventually, the thorough ousting of a President.

The Eye of The Storm

It took a while to trickle down to Laurel, but the Panic of 1893 nearly brought the fledgling Eastman Gardiner Lumber Company to its knees.

The depressed economy was enough to face on its own, but Eastman Gardiner was forced to grapple with a wildly unreliable railroad network as well. Many of the larger railroad companies had overextended themselves financially, and with banks closing and currency devalued, they were struggling to remain afloat. This led to decreased service and fickle scheduling, which, in turn, affected Eastman Gardiner’s ability to meet both their financial and material obligations.

In any other comparable lumber town, this story would have only one ending: workers would have been laid off in waves until, still unable to meet financial demands, mill owners would have been forced to close their operation and retreat back to their homes and families in far-off Northern cities. The towns that grew up around the mills would die slowly of population loss, until the next upswing in the economy and the arrival of some other intrepid “timber cruiser”. Then, the cycle would repeat. Many, many towns in south Mississippi faced this fate.

But Laurel was spared.

Our little mill town was different. First, our mill owners lived here. Their families lived here. They realized that they had as much to lose as any mill worker, and they didn’t want to see everything they’d worked for destroyed. Secondly, they valued the men who worked for them — men of every color and creed, evidenced by their hiring and promotion of African American and white workers alike. Their employees were the ones who would suffer most in the economic downturn, facing unemployment, transience, and eventual poverty if laid off.

So, while Silas Gardiner and Lauren Eastman worked outwards, searching for outside financing and investors to shore up the company during the fiscal slump, George Gardiner worked within its walls, offering a radical plan that relied solely on employee trust to work.

Rather than lay offs, George Gardiner proposed a temporary wage cut for workers who would ride out the recession with the company. He reasoned that if all employees could live on skeleton wages for a few months, the company would survive. The rest of his plan was revolutionary, and completely unheard of in terms of the business and social norms of the time.

They would pay the employees back.

For all the lost wages over that uncertain, ragged, and tense period of months, employees would receive back pay. Gardiner’s plan relied solely on the company’s, and his family’s, reputations for honesty and fair dealings with their workers. Overwhelmingly, the workers trusted the company, and, faced with being paid anything over being laid off, they stayed.

Seven months later, the economy improved. The mill began to profit once again.

And every worker received every dollar they were owed for their seven months of shorted pay.

Eastman Gardiner Lumber Company Employees

Property Lauren Rogers Museum of Art Archives

Original Eastman-Gardiner Lumber Company Office Building, circa 1895

Property Lauren Rogers Museum of Art Archives

The Laurel Gentry

Gentry is defined as “the well-born or well bred.” Our Laurel gentry may have come from money, but they were made from sterner stuff than other mill owners of their time. The Gardiners and Eastmans could have turned tail and run, cutting loose their obligations and leaving their employees high and dry. They didn’t, though — when the going got tough, they put themselves in the shoes of their men and realized that it benefit no one to cut costs by cutting jobs.

This story is remarkable enough in itself: that the employees trusted the mill owners enough to take a pay cut with the promise of eventual remuneration; that the financial panic receded and the mill was still afloat; that the mill owners made good on their promise of back pay. But another facet of this story is just as remarkable. Eastman Gardiner, not content to simply meet their obligations, exceeded their promises by earmarking the entirety of that year’s profits to build a school for workers’ children, improving the quality of their lives and the lives of generations to come.

Our gentry moved to Laurel with the intention of building lives here. They realized that in order to do that, they had to focus on community, not just commerce. Any other businessman of their time (and probably ours) would have called their actions crazy — it just wasn’t good business to be so heavily invested in employees’ lives.

The fact remains: the mutual trust and respect of the community, not the profits of the mill, saved our City Beautiful.



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Gilchrist-Fordney Train and two flag men


A new railroad goes together like this.

Ground is cleared.

A foundation is built up so the track won’t flood.

Ballast is laid, as a measure to reduce fires.

Huge wooden beams, soaked in creosote against the spring rains, are spaced across the foundation.

Thin, I-shaped steel rails are laid perpendicular to the beams at exactly four feet, eight and one half inches apart.

These are held in place by steel spikes, hammered into the beams.

Then comes the train.

The Rails

Long before Laurel was named or formed, the Southern railroads were being laid in earnest.

Railways proved the most economical means of conveyance for people and goods, but rival rail companies, fierce competition, and the Civil War had wreaked havoc on the country’s ability to adhere to a single national standard track gauge. Railroad tracks varied across states, effectively blocking efficient movement from place to place. This distinction was handy in war time, when the goal was to keep the enemy from bringing men and artillery into specific territories, but it tended to slow or prohibit commerce during the relative peace following the war.

Track gauge was the measurement between the interior faces of each load-bearing rail. Different track gauges essentially meant that the tracks were built for wheels set at different widths under the car they supported. Most Southern tracks were set to accommodate wheels roughly three feet from one another, while those farther North pushed the width out to four feet or more. In 1871, twenty three different track gauges were recorded in the continental US.  For transcontinental loads — like the lumber that Laurel eventually processed and sent north — locomotion was costly and difficult.

This issue was typically solved in one of two ways. Either companies paid to outfit their cars with adjustable axles — meaning they could be cranked in and out on each car to fit the gauge of the track the train needed to travel — or the cars were elevated and the axles and wheels swapped out to the needed size. Neither option was cheap or efficient, and both required extra manpower each time a train crossed into a new gauge.

Change was required, on a scale heretofore unheard of.

The process began with the Illinois Central Railroad Company. Seeing their profits diminish as delays and interchanges stacked up, they began the laborious process of changing all their tracks to a standard gauge. This began a domino effect, with the Mobile and Ohio, Cincinnati Southern, and other large rail operations preparing to follow suit.

Recognizing an industry-wide problem, the railroad barons banded together to create a solution to the gauge discrepancies. Over a period of years, plans were formed to refit thousands of miles of Southern states’ tracks to match those of the Northern railways. The vast majority of the offending tracks would be moved just three inches to fall in line with the industry standard.

Tens of hundreds of men uprooted and replanted thousands of miles of railway in one of the greatest engineering feats of their time.

It was done in a single day.

Sunday, May 30, 1886
11,500 miles of railroad.

Pop the spikes.
Lift the rail.
Clear the foundation.
Redistribute ballast.
Refit the rail.
Replace the spikes.
Move forward.

New Orleans and Northeastern Train Lines

Property Lauren Rogers Museum of Art Archives

Local Lines

But what did that mean for Laurel?

Both the Illinois Central and Mobile and Ohio rail lines ran through our area prior to the massive refitting, but the increased efficiency of the standardized rail lines laid the groundwork for the lumber boom to come. Laurel sat in the crossroads of the two lines, able to send lumber south, to both the Ports of New Orleans and Mobile, or north, to the lumber-hungry cities of the Northeast and Midwest. Refitting the rails set the stage for Laurel’s debut as a yellow pine powerhouse.

The day the gauges changed, the future of Laurel changed with them.



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