The Argent Lumber Company of Hardeeville, S.C., began its sawmill operation on Sept. 1, 1916 as a single band mill, with a vertical resaw soon added. Their initial operation began with two steam-powered logging locomotives and 42 cars on seven miles of narrow gauge railroad track west of Hardeeville. This track was documented as being “3 foot narrow gauge tracks,” meaning it was 3 feet between one rail to the other rail.
From 1916-1948 the sawmill operated cutting pine trees in South Carolina and sawing them into lumber at the Hardeeville saw mill. In 1948, the company acquired some 15,000 acres of timberland across the Savannah River in Effingham County.
In 1951 a 200-foot log steel highway swing bridge was purchased from Brunswick. This bridge was dismantled and was erected across the Savannah River into Bear Island on the Effingham County side. Logging railroad tracks were laid from Hardeeville to the bridge and across the river into the huge swamp on the Georgia side.
The Argent Lumber Company began a five-year operation of cutting huge pine timber that grew in the swamp on Bear Island in Effingham County.
In 1955, it was decided that the Argent Lumber Company could realize more profit by growing and selling timber than by operating the steam railroad and sawmill. The new $1 per hour federal minimum wage law of 1956 was its real death.
The narrow gauge railroad and the sawmill were shut down in April 1956, putting some 400 employees, almost the entire local population of Hardeeville, out of work. The mill yard contained some 12 million board feet of rough-cut lumber, and the planning mill continued to process this until it too was closed in January 1957.
In the summer of 1955 Mrs. Mallory Hope Ferrell came to Hardeeville and took pictures of the sawmill and steam powered logging locomotives at the Argent Lumber Company. One picture of interest was her picture of Argent Lumber Company’s logging locomotive number 2, a Baldwin 2-6-0 of 1906 vintage, thundering across the Savannah River Bridge coming out of Bear Island in Effingham County loaded with huge pine logs heading for the sawmill at Hardeeville, S.C.
Mrs. Ferrell dated this picture June 18, 1955, and her collection of pictures about this old time sawmill and its steam powered logging locomotives appeared in the 1984 summer edition of the “Light & Industrial Railway Quarterly.”
What happened to the steel bridge across the Savannah River was one thing I could not figure out. It must have been sold to someone because it is not there today.
Today Argent Lumber Company steam locomotive number 7 sits under a shed in the middle of the town of Hardeeville, S.C. as a last reminder of this old lumber company’s past.
Bear Island is located on the south end of Effingham County on the Savannah River near the present Interstate 95.
Researched and data compiled by Norman V. Turner. If you have comments, photos or topics to share for this column please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 754-6681.