THE FINISHING TOUCH
The Dublin Veneer Company
It was only natural that we had them. With all of our trees in Laurens County, millions of them, John M. Simmons saw the need for establishing a mill to make veneer to ornament his furniture before it was shipped around the country.
Simmons established his first veneer mill in the summer of 1902 under the name of The Simmons Manufacturing Company. His plan was to use the veneer from the mill in conjunction with his Dublin Furniture Manufacturing Company, located only a quarter of a mile or so to the northwest in the Scottsville community. On January 30, 1909, the company, which changed its name to the Southland Lumber Company, suffered the complete and uninsured loss of the mill in a fire. The company, under the leadership of Z. Clark Thwing, had no choice but to rebuild, since it had some 5000 acres of timber lands under lease.
Simmons sold the company to a new group of investors in 1909. Locally, the incorporators of the Southland Veneer and Lumber Company were J.M. Finn, J.E. Smith, Jr., J.B. Burch, W.B. Stubbs, D.S. Brandon, J.R. Broadhurst, J.R. Kelley, Emanuel Dryer, W.B. Rogers, and D.L. Emerson. After many years of economic struggles, prolonged court battles, and fires, the Southland Veneer and Lumber Company closed its doors.
In the summer of 1916, the operation was taken over by hardware store baron H.G. Stevens and C.T. Alexander & Sons. The Alexanders, originally from Ohio, had gained valuable experience in the veneer business in Virginia and North Carolina. Paul Alexander took over the duties of vice-president. Brothers Jed and Lloyd worked in the mill as well.
The Alexanders bought a new tug boat to ferry timbers to the riverside plant from their base lumber camp, some six miles up river from Dublin. C.T. Alexander, who had been associated with the Georgia Veneer and Lumber Company, modestly claimed no credit for the company's renewed success, giving the credit to the needs of the country's effort to win World War I.
Veneer was of critical importance to the war effort. When the government found out that Paul Alexander was headed over seas to fight the Germans, his orders were immediately rescinded. Alexander was ordered to return home to keep the plant going. Military officials desperately wanted the Alexanders to continue providing high quality veneer which would be fashioned into airplane propellers. Skilled plant workers were also exempted from military duty. The Alexanders tried to keep up with the ever increasing demand. They invested more money in equipment to improve the mill, which was the only one of its kind in South Georgia.
By 1920, the company, the county's largest employer with more than 200 hands, was shipping its products to Michigan, Illinois and other Midwest states, even into Canada. The lathes turned twenty four hours a day. Times were never better. Louis Alexander, a son of Paul, remembered, "Daddy was probably the highest paid man in Dublin making about $100 a week, when many people were making $10 a week. Alexander joked, "My grandfather C.T. Alexander knew how to make money, but he knew how to spend it better."
The company's annual production of more than twenty million feet was drawn from the red gums, oaks, pines, poplars, cypress and hickory trees thirty miles north and south of Dublin on the river and within a 10 to 15 miles radius by truck. In 1922, C.T. Alexander announced that the company was increasing production by 78 per cent by adding a new drying machine which enabled the plant to ship seven car loads per week.
Louis Alexander, now 87 years old, has vivid and fond memories of the mill in the 1920s. "I can remember when Daddy went off and bought a dry kiln. Before that, all of the veneer had to be sun dried on clothes lines running from the river all the way up to Hub Dudley's mortuary. Where the Dairy Queen and Roche's is now - all of that was part of the mill. They hung that stuff up in the morning and it would warp one way and when the sun hit it on the other side, it would straighten back out," Louis said. Alexander remembered riding a car with only the right rear wheel powered by a single chain. "It would get stuck in the sand quickly and we'd have to jump up and down to get it going," Alexander recalled.
Winter rains often caused many problems for the Alexanders. Located on the edge of the Oconee River, the veneer mill was often flooded. Louis remembers the water crossing the road between where the Ford and Chevrolet places are today. He began working at the mill in the early 1930s and remembers going under the floor of the mill when the flood waters were seeping under it. "We had to be real careful not to make waves. We would tie a string along the water level as a plumb to tell us how to align the shafts which protruded downward from the main floor of the mill," Alexander recalled.
The mill was erected on the river for a reason. Alexander said, "They used to cut logs up there all the way to Oconee and around Big Sandy especially. They would pile up logs on the side of a bluff and then dry them out. Then, they would cut a piece of ironwood, which grew wild up there, and drive it into the cypress trees to make a hook which they could tie the big cypresses together. Daddy said, 'a cypress doesn't know when it's dead - just wet it and it will grow.'" He added, " We had a great big flat boat and they'd take it up to Big Sandy and pull the logs down. Four or five men would stay with the logs to keep them away from the shore."
Louis, vividly remembering one of the biggest cypress trees that he ever saw, said "My brother Charles and I went inside of it. It was hollow and was as big as my dining room. We saw all kinds of ashes where people had been camping inside. When they cut it down, they cut off the hollow part. The rest of the tree was so big that it barely fit on the back of the truck. When they brought it to Dublin, some men used a hand auger and drove some holes into the tree. They placed dynamite in them and blew it up. Cypress is good about splitting."
The Great Depression of 1929, which was even greater in 1931, led to the economic downfall of the Dublin Veneer Company in 1932. The company was sent into receivership when the debts outweighed the company's income. The company was forced into involuntary bankruptcy, the assets were sold, and the doors were closed, albeit temporarily.
C.T. Alexander and his sons lost nearly everything they had. Paul went to work with his brother-in-law, Teddy Moffett, who had formed one of the first commercial freight hauling businesses in the area. Although they were no longer in the veneer business, C.T. Alexander and Sons remained in the timber business. In 1941, with a new war about ready to begin, the company made statewide headlines by purchasing 1.5 million board feet of virgin pine timber from the J.L.A. Perry estate north of Dublin.
The facility was taken over by a new company, The Georgia Plywood Company, which operated on the site for more than forty years before being forced out of business by newer and more efficient mills across the country and around the world. After nearly seventy-five years, the milling of veneer in Dublin came to a quiet and unheralded end.