I was fishing the Suwannee River a lot in the Summer of 1976 and kept seeing deadhead logs. The term came about because the small end of the log floats like a head bobbing in the water. My antique business was in Micanopy and a friend (Jerry Moore) helping me source the antiques told me he could bring up some of the logs if I wanted him to.
We took the logs to an old sawmill nearby and from the moment I first saw the life and light in the ancient wood I knew people would want to have some of it. So, instead of fishing we spent our spare time pulling logs and having the wood sawn into beautiful, durable, and historic lumber. Then came the sawmill to saw it ourselves.
About the only time you cannot dive to find the old logs is when the rivers are in flood stage. The water is a little warmer in the Summer, so every July Jerry and I made a pilgrimage to a different river area that we thought likely to have the ancient sunken logs.
The local libraries and archives are a good way to research old sawmill locations. Logs were often stored in the water next to the sawmill and the densest and best often sank. Or, we might find a bend in the river where an entire raft had sunk. The rafts were generally 15 or so logs across and a couple of logs for cross members. There might be 20 or so such raft sections connected with chains or ropes.
We learned the best ways to search the river bottom with a grid. And we inevitably would find a lot of ‘second growth’ logs that were downed from storms or floods. Second growth aren’t worth pulling up as the wood is neither dense nor durable. Plus, it is commercially available, whereas the ancient logs are rare and valuable.
We searched river beds in NC, SC, GA and AL. I had a hand drawn map from 1881 of Florida’s forests, so of course we traveled all around Northern Central Florida and the Florida Panhandle. What we ultimately learned after years of this research is that the spring fed Florida rivers held the most and the best ancient logs. The best heart cypress comes from the Panhandle and the best heart pine from the Suwannee, Withlacoochee, and St John’s rivers. The St. John’s also has a lot of heart cypress waiting to be discovered.
– George Goodwin