White Pine Ship Masts

(Condensed from Arch Bristow’s Old Time Tales of Warren County)

               Towering masts of pine, cut in the virgin forests of Warren County, have held the sails of the largest sailing vessels, traveling across the sea and into every port of the world. Even New England forests, close to the ship building trade, could not compete with Warren County in furnishing great ship's masts of beautiful white pine, which were tall and straight and strong. When news of the marvelous pines of Western Pennsylvania reached the ship builders in the east, they sent men to Pine Valley in Columbus Township in Warren County to arrange for the cutting and loading of the finest masts to be found anywhere.

               These men hired the best woodsmen in the country to fell the trees. The larger pines towered one hundred and twenty feet, one hundred and thirty feet, and a few were said to measure a full one hundred and sixty feet to the top. It took good men to handle such trees; the trunks were so heavy they would break with their own weight when they fell if the job was not done expertly. Obed Stevens was a past master in the art of felling trees. He did not belong in Pine Valley; the agents of the ship builders brought him from somewhere up the Allegheny. A tree cutting trick used by Obed Stevens was sometimes used in Pine Valley in felling the big trees. When a perfect pine had been selected, the choppers would fell it into the branches of a neighboring tree, allowing it to come only part way down. Then the supporting tree would be cut so that it and its leaning load would fall on a third tree nearby. Then the third tree was cut, the perfect Pine would sink down softly, his fall cushioned by the branches of the other trees. After the big pine had been safely felled, half a dozen axmen set to work trimming it and peeling the bark. When the work was finished, it was a beautiful white “stick,” slippery and gleaming, squared a little at the end by hewing. It was already a mast, or “spar” in the rough, finished as much as it would be in Pine Valley. The giant log would be four or five feet across the bottom tapering up to a diameter of twenty inches or less at the top.

               It took three flat cars of the train to carry away the big masts of Pine Valley to the sea. Getting the big timbers to the cars was difficult work. Sometimes it took twelve to eighteen oxen to get the huge masts to the railroad tracks.


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society