Logging in the 1800’s

When the original Hugh McGilvery came to America his employment was already secure he would work for the Great Northern Lumber Company. It is said he arrived with only $10.00 in his pocket. His son Robert would later follow his father into lumbering. Between 1810 and 1830 the population of the U.S. almost doubled and timber was needed to build cities, deep wood loggers became the suppliers.

Loggers lived and worked in logging camps throughout the winter and well into spring. The snow and ice made it easier to move logs out of the forests. Every fall the loggers would move to a new sight where they cut wide straight roads and built a camp. It was not unusual for the loggers to spend 5 months in the forests working 12-hour days. They owned their own axes and crosscut saws and Sundays were spent sharpening them. Once “fallers” chopped down the trees they were trimmed of branches and stripped of bark on one side to allow for sliding. Next the logs were loaded on sled, which was hauled out of the forests using horses or oxen. The ice on the roads made this easier. At the beginning of the logging season and whenever necessary, water tanks on runners were drawn along the roads, supplying a small stream of water on each side. Hills were kept clear and covered with hay and dirt to help brake the sled. *On steep hills thick chains were tied around the sled runners to slow down the load. Logging roads led to the banks of frozen rivers where the sleds were unloaded. Here the timber was cut into logs and marked with a cut to show ownership. In the spring after the rivers had thawed the logs were rolled in the water. Rivers and streams became public logging highways shared by different lumber companies. “Rivermen” were dare devil loggers who drove the logs down river to the sawmills. They were surefooted men who balanced on rolling logs in spiked boots. Log jams were dangerous and often had to be blasted apart with gunpowder by loggers called “powder monkeys”. As jammed logs broke free they rushed forward like an avalanche! Rivermen could be crushed and killed in the stampede of logs. Where waterways were not convenient short logging trains were used however, these trains did not have brakes and often jumped the tracks. *In the later years of Great Lakes logging, steam-powered tractors began to replace horse pulled sleighs.

We do not know the employment positions Hugh and Robert held but regardless their work was extremely hard and dangerous.


  • Hugh McGilvery
  • Rough and Ready Loggers,
  • Gintzler.allroutes. to logging history. htm