Background Information

(Excerpted from miscellaneous nineteenth century Warren newspapers)


“The big harvest of our country is again at hand—lumber.  All the streams are in fine order for running and most of our citizens have gone down the river.”

-Warren Gazette

March 11, 1826


Throughout the nineteenth century, lumbering was one of Warren County’s most important industries. Rivers and creeks were natural highways for the movement of lumber to markets downriver. The Allegheny flowed into the Ohio, and the Ohio flowed into the Mississippi; thus Warrenites could sell lumber in Pittsburgh, Louisville, and even New Orleans simply by following the current.  In Warren County, trees were cut in the winter and usually taken to a nearby mill located on a stream or river.  In the spring, when water was running high with rain and melting snow, the lumber was made into rafts.  An “Allegheny Raft” was 365 feet long and 50 feet wide. It was made up of three separate pieces called “strings” or “Conewangos.”  These pieces started on the smaller creeks or streams, and were joined together when they reached the Allegheny River.  A raft would carry 12 oarsmen, a cook, a pilot, and a captain, and they would sleep and eat in one or two small buildings, called shanties.

When the raft reached its destination, it was sold and its crew had to find other transportation home. Men might return by horseback, stagecoach, steamboat, and eventually by train. Many simply walked.

Rafting was a dangerous and demanding business. Raftsmen spent most of their days out-of-doors, often in the rain, or even in the snow. Dams, rapids, snags, shallows, and other crafts on the river could catch, damage, or destroy a raft. River pirates might rob men and steal their rafts. Even tying the raft to a convenient object on shore at night, called snubbing, required that a raftsman be quick and sure-footed to avoid slipping or being hurt by the rope as it was pulled taut.  As one poor gentleman who took a raft from Warren to Louisville, Kentucky wrote in 1850,

Once...l fondly imagined there must be some sport in going down the river.  May the Great Spirit forgive me.  l even urged friends to take the trip for FUN.  But hear the Voice of Age and Experience:

I have stoven on islands and stuck on bars.

I have pried off with rails.

I have pulled in snow storms.

I have rowed in rains.

I have examined and reflected upon this lumber business both by daylight and moonlight and every other light.

And—I hesitatingly and solemnly declare it to be my firm conviction it is one uninterrupted series of everlasting hard work without a particle of fun in its entire composition.


 But, despite the danger and the hard work, many found rafting an exciting business. It offered men the opportunity to travel hundreds of miles from home, to see cities and towns, to meet people, and see new sights.  Just as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn discovered, a raft and a river could mean freedom. In 1849, the Allegheny Mail had this to say, “O, the jolly raftsmen have pleasures which we pale-faced, soft-handed...victims of indoor employment know not of.”


Additional Resources:

A Rafting Story


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society