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The stave mills of Effingham

POSTED: January 30, 2014 6:50 p.m.
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Above is a barrel, with the sections or staves held together by barrel hoops.

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Several stave mills operated in the Stillwell and Clyo area. A stave is a shaped strip of wood that forms the walls of a wooden barrel, bucket, etc.


Brothers Willie, Henry and Bertie Gnann formed a partnership and built a saw mill on Lot 5 in Stillwell. It was relocated and expanded after a few years.


At the new location, north of the now abandoned post office in Stillwell, a stationary steam engine powered a saw mill, stave mill, planing mill, cotton gin and grist mill. The engine burned wood slabs from milling wood products. Cotton became unprofitable because of the boll weevil, and the gin was dismantled. The mill complex continued to operate for many years. These bits of information came from “River to River: the History of Effingham County” and Ralph Gnann, a descendant of the owners.


According to information from the late Ernest Gnann, one of the last industries in the outlying area of Stillwell was the “stave mill,” which was operated by a business out of Virginia. The location was at Seines Landing at the Savannah River and it was later relocated to the Haddenville community. The manufactured forest product was from black pine (second growth) trees which at this time, in the economy of the area, was considered practically worthless. This, of course, was before the advent of the paper pulp mills.


The staves made from the timber were later used in the construction of nail kegs. They were neatly stacked in bundles about the size of a finished nail keg and transported to the railroad on a wooden wagon pulled by a three-mule team. The colorful driver of the wagon was a white citizen by the name of Leroy Croft, who lived in one of the local houses. He carried a short, rawhide whip, which he rarely used, across his shoulder. (He was a teamster who showed much consideration for his stock.)


The jargon the local farmers used addressing their work stock was, “gee, haw, whoa and giddup.” But his unusual manner was simply the words “whoa haw.” The mules would respond to this command and put out their utmost effort. The words the local farmers used were directing the mules to go left, right, forward or to stop.


On what is presently known as Union Spring Road where Hadden Lake Road comes in at the corner, there are failing remnants of what was known as the Haddenville store or commissary. A man named Hadden owned property there with a large farm with barns, a cotton gin, mill and a store. Several small houses for workers were on the property at one time. The Haddens had a home there that burned. There were living quarters in the old store, where they lived after the house burned.


The following is an account of the time when the stave mill left Stillwell and moved to Haddenville. The late Freddie Helmly, who lived in the area wrote, “Sometime in the late teens the Company from Virginia bought the property. When the company moved in, they tore down the gin, mill and old barns. Papa built them a barn. They had 12 to 15 mules and one horse. They ran 2 stave mills. A Mr. John Frye was foreman of the mills. He and Papa were close friends.  They fished and hunted together a lot. Later one of his brothers lived at Haddenville and ran one of the mills. A man by the name of Mason was manager of the farm. He rode a horse from his home in Springfield daily. He would stop and talk to Papa every morning.” When Mr. Hadden left, he lived in Savannah. Mr. Freddie remembers him driving a meat truck here in Effingham.


A portion of the Haddenville property is now where some of Robert Reiser’s descendants built their homes. A field known as the Summer Field of the Hadden farm was owned by the late Billy Hinely.


Today one would never guess that there were at one time thriving industries dotting the now quiet timberland in these areas of Effingham County.


This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at hesheraldexley@aol.com.

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