Faces from the Past

Sullivan made Bogalusa mill town into a city

By James Barnett
Journal Correspondent

William H. (Col. Bill) Sullivan, the vice-president and general manager of the Great Southern Lumber Company, was born in St. Catherine, Ontario, in 1864. Soon after graduating in 1884 from the Bryant and Stratton Business School, Sullivan met Frank and Charles Goodyear of Buffalo, NY. The Goodyear brothers were so impressed with Sullivan they hired him on the spot and gave him the responsibility of perfecting plans for and constructing a huge sawmill complex in Louisiana. Meanwhile, the Goodyears turned their attention to finances and to the plans for the city of Bogalusa that was to eventually house 15,000 people.

Credit for conceiving the plan of converting a lumber camp into a self-governing city is due to Sullivan, its designer and builder, and to the liberal-mindedness of Frank and Charles Goodyear. They approved and aided with wise counsel and generosity in the initial expenditures by the company to make the idea effective.

Sullivan moved to Bogalusa in 1907 with his wife, Elizabeth Calkins of Buffalo. Under his supervision, the Great Southern Lumber Company erected the first mill in the world constructed of steel. It was also the world's largest with a 24-hour capacity of one million board feet of lumber. The mill began operation in 1908.

This mammoth plant was the basis for building the attractive city of Bogalusa. Col. Sullivan extended the business to paper making which assured continued growth through diversified manufacturing. Sullivan was the first and long term mayor of the city and worked aggressively to develop economic possibilities for the region. Proposed and developed were a canning factory, culture of Satsuma oranges, planting of Tung tree orchards for the production of Tung oil, and numerous other programs that provided economic stability. However, the development of the Great Southern Lumber Company's massive reforestation effort was the program that brought national and international recognition.

It is not clear whether Sullivan conceived or merely executed the early forestry activities of the company. At any rate, he was in charge of these historic accomplishments. In 1920, the historic reforestation program was initiated. Inspired by Henry Hardtner's pioneering work at Urania, the company decided to plant 800 acres of cutover land immediately adjacent to Bogalusa. Unable to obtain seedlings, the company decided to direct seed the area with loblolly and slash pines. Seeds were sown on ridges made with mule teams and plows. The effort was successful and is what is believed to be the first large scale commercial establishment of forest species in the United States.

This success led the company to begin an aggressive reforestation program. Key to its success was the development of nursery and planting technology. Sullivan hired a non-professional forester (J.K. Johnson) and ranger (F.O. (Red) Bateman) to oversee this effort. He provided the resources to make the program successful. In 1924, a collaborative effort was established with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Forest Experiment Station to develop reforestation technology. At Sullivan's direction the Great Southern Lumber Company planted thousands of acres of pine seedlings. As a result of experimentation and observation made during the progress of this vast project, much general knowledge on artificial reforestation was accumulated. Much of the information published in Philip Wakeley's (1954) classic "Planting of the Southern Pines" was developed as a result of this joint operational research effort.

Col. Sullivan died in 1929. The Great Southern sawmill closed in 1938 as a result of the economic problems resulting from the Great Depression and insufficient old-growth forests remaining to maintain its operation. However, Sullivan's vision in diversifying the company resulted in the merger of the Goodyear's Gaylord Container Corporation paper mill with the original lumber company in 1937, and it continued operation as a forestry enterprise.

In 1954, the Gaylord Container Corporation, successor to the Great Southern Lumber Company, planted its 100 millionth pine seedling in its 110,500-acre forest. This became the largest privately owned man-made forest in North America, and the first planted forest in the country of sufficient size to reach merchantable age. This forest is a lasting testimony to Col. W.H. Sullivan's vision and the energy and dedication to carry out his vision in practical way. (Frank Heyward's' article on Co. W.H. Sullivan in the first quarter 1963 issue of Forests & People was used as a resource for this article.)