Rex Nelson wrote the following two stories about Crossett, focusing on its history as a center of innovation in the timber industry.

I’ve long been fascinated by the history of Crossett – a former company town that has been associated with the timber industry since the city’s founding. It was once known as the Forestry Capital of the South.

As the forests of the Great Lakes region began to be depleted during the late 1800s and early 1900s, American investors turned to the huge swath of Southern forests that ran from east Texas to the panhandle of Florida.

On May 16, 1899, three businessmen from Davenport, Iowa — Edward Savage Crossett, Charles Gates and John Watzek — formed the Crossett Lumber Co. with land in south Arkansas and north Louisiana. They had purchased 47,000 acres at a price of $7 per acre from the Michigan investment firm Hovey & McCracken.

Edward Crossett had been born in February 1828 in West Plattsburgh, N.Y. His father was a veteran of the War of 1812. Crossett worked in a Troy, N.Y., printing office and later as a clerk in a shoe store, earning $2.50 per month along with room and board. With his brother as a partner, he purchased the store in 1848. Two years later, Crossett left the store in the hands of his brother and headed west.

By 1853, Crossett was operating a supply store for lumbermen in Black River Falls, Wis. He also was the town’s postmaster from 1854-56. Crossett purchased timberland along the way, moving from Wisconsin to Davenport in 1875 to join a trading firm known as Renwick Shaw & Crossett.

“In 1882, Crossett made his first investment in yellow pine, which was the predominant softwood species in the Southern forest,” the late Bill Norman wrote for the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “In 1886, he sold his interest in the Renwick firm, taking as payment 10,000 acres of Arkansas land covered with yellow pine.

“His friends were confident that he had made a serious mistake in this exchange. Having personally inspected it, Crossett was convinced of the great possibilities in yellow pine, and his judgment was speedily vindicated. Along the way, he became interested in other lumber companies just setting up operations in the same part of Arkansas.”

Crossett, Gates and Watzek held three-fourths of the stock of the Crossett Lumber Co. with the remainder held by top employees. Gates was the president and Crossett was the vice president of the new company. Charles Gates’ brother — Cap Gates — was sent to south Arkansas to supervise the building of mills and the development of a company town, which was named in honor of Edward Crossett.

Crossett died in December 1910 in Davenport. By then, the company had taken off.

Read the full story on Rex Nelson’s Southern Fried blog.


Nelson followed the Crossett timber industry story with another about R.R. Reynolds. Reynolds directed the Crossett Experimental Forest for 30 years and authored nearly 175 publications.

In the previous Southern Fried blog post on Crossett, which centered on its history as a center of innovation in the timber industry, we mentioned R.R. Reynolds. He was a remarkable man.

Reynolds was born Dec. 21, 1906, near Howard City, Mich., and graduated from the University of Michigan’s forestry school with a bachelor’s degree in 1929 and a master’s degree in 1930.

In July 1930, Reynolds joined the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Forest Experiment Station. He spent his first three years with the Forest Service doing case studies for individual companies and completing county economic studies.

The Crossett Experimental Forest opened in 1933, and Reynolds spent the next three decades directing the research center. He was the author or co-author of almost 175 publications.

Reynolds retired from the Forest Service in 1969 but remained active in the industry as a member of the Society of American Foresters and a practicing tree farmer.

The Crossett Lumber Co., which was extremely progressive for its time, had established a relationship with Yale University in 1912. That relationship with the forestry scholars at Yale resulted in improved forestry and manufacturing practices.

Many Yale-trained foresters found their way to south Arkansas and north Louisiana through the years. Their research was augmented by the work done at the 1,680-acre Crossett Experimental Forest, which was seven miles south of Crossett.

Because of the efforts of the Crossett Lumber Co.’s foresters and the U.S. Forest Service researchers, Crossett became a leader in sustained-yield forestry in which trees were treated as a renewable resource.

Read the rest of the full story here.