"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.
STANDARD LUMBER COMPANY
STANDARD LUMBER COMPANY. The Standard Lumber Company was established in 1865 as a wholesale lumber company. (1) After 1876 it operated the largest saw mill in Iowa. (2) It was, however, only one of sixty-eight saw mills then operating between St. Paul and St. Louis. (3)
Operated by Major William Harrison DAY, Sr., the company required enormous amounts of timber, drawing logs from as far away as the Canadian border. At a time when supplies of pine seemed endless, Day purchased large tracts of the finest white pine and contracted for the timber on other large tracts. (4) Demand remained high. In 1900 the company cut 37.5 million feet of lumber, 5.5 million feet of lath, and 8.5 million shingles in Dubuque. (5) In 1904 the Minnesota Secretary of Interior granted the company the right to construct a logging railroad through the Chippewa reservation and that portion of it set aside as a forest reserve. (6) Named the Leech Lake and Northern, the railroad was planned to eventually reach thirty miles.
The sawmill was closed only once. In July 1906 a fire burned one-third of the structure. Within five days, the burned section had been replaced and milling continued. (7)
In 1909 Dubuque's sash and door and lumber industry was worth an estimated $6 million to the city. (8) During its peak production, the mill sawed between 50 million to 60 million feet of lumber. (9) With the employment of over three hundred men, the annual payroll in 1911 reached $250,000. (10)
On Friday, May 26, 1911, the first of two disastrous fires started in the company's huge six block area "north yards." (11) Nearby manufacturing shops sounded their whistles to warn people to leave for safety. As people crowded along the bluffs to watch, others formed bucket brigades, loaned automobiles to fire and police officials, and helped those who lived in the area to move. (12)
Among the tragedies of that fire was the fire damage done to the historic SHOT TOWER. The fire, whipped by the wind around the tower, burned the interior wooden framework from the top of the tower downward, leaving a hollow shell. Investigation of the fire, which caused an estimated $300,000 in damage, uncovered oil-soaked rags that had been shoved between boards in several piles of white pine lumber throughout the lumberyard. Between five and seven blocks of finished lumber were destroyed. The fire was finally contained by Saturday morning. (13)
A second fire struck the company's six-block area "south yards" late in the afternoon on Sunday, May 28th. (14) Sounds of the whistles and alarms brought huge crowds of curious people, including people from miles away who were drawn by the towering flames shooting into the sky. Bucket brigades were formed to save neighboring properties.
The second blaze caused an additional $350,000 in damage. The lumberyard went out of business from the losses involved from the fire and the declining amount of timber available after 1910 from Wisconsin forests. The closing meant unemployment for an estimated seven hundred. (15) At the time of the closing, Standard Lumber was one of only three remaining sawmills along the Mississippi. (16)
A reward of five thousand dollars, never collected, was offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible. The lumber left after the fires was sold to the CENTRAL LUMBER AND COAL COMPANY which had been started around 1905 by the same people associated with Standard Lumber. (17)
In 1920 this company was purchased by the Pyramid Lumber Company. Three years later, Pyramid sold its coal and lumber business in addition to the land that had once belonged to Standard Lumber Company to the MIDWEST LUMBER COMPANY. (18)
In 1936 reports of fire at the former site of the Standard Lumber Company brought firemen to the area to extinguish flames. (19). Fire Chief William Ryan indicated his belief that the lumber company had been constructed over sawdust beds. Embers that had reached the sawdust caused the fire which occasionally broke to the surface.
Around 1937 chemists were brought to Dubuque to investigate the long held belief that the Standard Lumber Company fire had gone underground and was still smouldering. The chemists concluded that this belief was incorrect. Underground fires, they claimed, were caused by spontaneous combustion. (20)
Note: The statement of the chemists must now be brought into question. Since 1962 an underground fire has consumed an unknown amount of coal under the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. It population of 1000 in 1981 by 2010 had been reduced to 10. The source of the fire is considered to be the former landfill.
There is some disagreement over the specific event which triggered the fire. David DeKok...argues in "Unseen Danger" and its successor edition, "Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire", that in May 1962, the Centralia Borough Council hired five members of the volunteer fire company to clean up the town landfill... located in an abandoned strip-mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery...On May 27, 1962, the firefighters, as they had in the past, set the dump on fire and let it burn for some time. Unlike in previous years, however, the fire was not fully extinguished. An unsealed opening in the pit allowed the fire to enter ...abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia.
Joan Quigley argues in her 2007 book, "The Day the Earth Caved In", that the fire had in fact started the previous day, when a trash hauler dumped hot ash or coal discarded from coal burners into the open trash pit. (21)
1. "Dubuque Lumber Industry Second to None in the Country," Telegraph Herald, Jan. 31, 1910, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=GClCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=gKoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3156,971862&dq=lumber+companies+dubuque&hl=en
2. "Facts And Figures About Dubuque," (1911), Telegraph Herald, Feb. 26, 1911, p. 17. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=r_BCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=4asMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4527,2700768&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en
3. "Rise and Fall of Lumber Business," Telegraph Herald, June 4, 1911, p. 6. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=EfFCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=76sMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3619,6010319&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en
5. "In the Pineries," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Dec. 8, 1901, p. 11. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=jE5BAAAAIBAJ&sjid=-KgMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4978,4290325&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en
6. "Standard Lumber Company Will Build Railroad," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Aug. 3, 1904, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=EhpFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=87oMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3876,2294016&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en
7. "The Sash and Door and Lumber Interests," Telegraph Herald, Oct. 24, 1909, p. 31. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=h8JBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=0KkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2102,5719481&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en
9. "Rise and Fall of Lumber Business..."
10. "Dubuque Lumber Industry Second to None..."
11. McCormick, John. "How Big was the Fire of 1894? It Was So Big That..." Telegraph Herald, Nov. 14, 1979, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=nOhFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Uv4MAAAAIBAJ&pg=6738,2018011&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en
15. "Rise and Fall of Lumber Business..."
17. "Dubuque Lumber Executive Dies," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, January 24, 1933, p. 16. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=SPNFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=JL4MAAAAIBAJ&pg=3347,6130671&dq=lumber+companies+dubuque&hl=en
18."Pyramid Company Sells Local Yard," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 12, 1923, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=qxtIAAAAIBAJ&sjid=j80MAAAAIBAJ&pg=3833,3070637&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en
19. "Fire Still Burns After 23 Years," Wilmington (Delaware) Sunday Morning Star, June 21, 1936, p. 17. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=MdUmAAAAIBAJ&sjid=mQIGAAAAIBAJ&pg=5372,6963877&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en
20. "This Did Not Start Underground Fires Here," Telegraph Herald, Dec. 6, 1937, p. 12. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=UORBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=EKoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3177,3083867&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en
21. Wikipedia. "Centralia, Pennsylvania" Onliner: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centralia,_Pennsylvania