I spent a lot of time fishing the Suwannee River during the summer of 1976. During this time I kept noticing deadhead logs (The term, “deadhead log” came about because the small end of the log floats like a head bobbing in the water). Something about them genuinely intrigued me. I had an antique business in Micanopy and a friend, Jerry Moore, was helping me source the antiques. He told me he could also bring up some of the logs. Now I was more than intrigued, I was interested!
Jerry recovered the logs and we took them to an old sawmill nearby. From the moment I first saw the life and light in the ancient wood, I knew people would fall in love with it. So, instead of fishing, we spent our spare time pulling logs and having them sawn into beautiful, durable historic lumber. We soon acquired our own sawmill and began sawing these treasures ourselves.
Every summer, when the water was warmest, Jerry and I made a pilgrimage to a different river area to search for ancient sunken logs. Since many of these logs were “lost” near old sawmills, we found local libraries and archives to be a good resource to research old sawmill locations. Logs were often stored in the water next to the sawmill and the densest and best often sank. Sometimes we got lucky and found 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 by using 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’s commercially available, whereas the ancient logs are rare and valuable.
We searched riverbeds 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 research is that the spring fed Florida rivers held the most and highest quality 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. More on that later…