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Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Saw Mills of George W.E. Row

Letterhead of George W.E. Row

     During his brief lifetime, George Washington Estes Row (1843-1883) proved himself to be a resourceful man of many abilities--cavalryman, inventor, farmer and entrepreneur. It was in the latter role that he began to distinguish himself in the last years of his life. In post-Civil War Spotsylvania there were essentially two career paths available to rural residents: farming and operating a saw mill. George Row made the best of both possibilities. (Please note that all images can be clicked on for larger viewing).

Eckenrode's inspection of sills, 1870

     By 1870 my great grandfather had dipped his toe into the lumber business and was furnishing railroad ties to the Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad. The receipt above shows that Hamilton John Eckenrode inspected one thousand first and second class sills for sections 14 and 15 of track. Unfortunately, whatever momentum Mr. Row might have attained in the lumber business was cut short by a series of personal tragedies that befell him during 1871-73; namely, the deaths of his wife, his daughter and his mother.

Map detail of Spotsylvania, 1863

Joe Talley's receipt for timber payment, March 1881

     After George Row married Lizzie Houston in December 1875, he revived his saw mill business with a single-minded resolve. He contracted for the timber rights on 207 acres of forest on the farm of Joseph Talley. Joe Talley's property was located "1 1/2 miles south of Finchville" (basically, the intersection of Brock and Catharpin Roads) on modern Mill Pond Road in Spotsylvania. On the 1863 map detail shown above, this place--designated as "Mrs. Talley"-- can be seen in the middle of the image near the dotted line that descends southeast from Catharpin Road. This is where George Row built his saw mill. Over the course of seven years he employed dozens of freedmen to harvest the timber and operate the mill. Details regarding their experience can be read here.

Receipt from the American Saw Company, 1878

Receipt from Emerson, Smith & Co., 1882

Receipt from R. Hoe & Co., 1881

     The Row saw mill was a vigorous and multifaceted enterprise. The heart and soul of the mill was the steam engine and boiler built by the Hope Foundry in Fredericksburg. The machinery was protected from the elements by a shed. A blacksmith and cooper's shop operated in conjunction with the mill. The cooperage manufactured shooks, the component parts used in barrel making. A kitchen with a farmer's cook stove was built to feed the mill hands. Provisions bought in town by Mr. Row were available for purchase at the company commissary. Typically these provisions consisted of such necessities as corn meal, bacon, tobacco and whiskey. A separate building contained George Row's office. A horse car track, whose rails were also manufactured by the Hope Foundry, carried finished products from the mill to the railroad on Brock Road.

Invoice of Benjamin Bowering, 1884

Check written by George Row to Benjamin Bowering, 1882

     When Mr. Row bought his steam engine and boiler (appraised at $400 at his estate sale), the Hope Foundry was owned by Benjamin Bowering. Bowering was born in November 1819 in England and came to America with his family in 1828. They settled in Passaic, New Jersey where Benjamin married Lucinda Voorhees in September 1841. In 1849 Benjamin Bowering was hired by then owner John F. Scott to come to Fredericksburg to manage the Hope Foundry. Bowering assumed sole ownership of the business after Scott's death in 1871. He sold the foundry to the Progressive Engine and Machine Works in 1891 and stayed on as manager until 1892.
Fredericksburg Ledger 16 November 1866

     (It is worth a brief digression here to acknowledge Benjamin Bowering's son, Andrew. Before the Civil War Andrew Bowering taught music in Fredericksburg, so it was only natural that he would become the principal musician of the regimental band of the 30th Virginia Infantry. In 1863 Andrew composed the dirge and directed the band when they played at the funeral of Stonewall Jackson. At Appomattox in April 1865 Andrew Bowering blew the last recall of the Army of Northern Virginia. He then placed his bugle on a tree limb and walked home to Fredericksburg. In the years after the war Andrew remained active in the town's music life, worked at his father's foundry, served on the school board and was for almost fifty years the City Commissioner of Revenue.)
     The Row saw mill manufactured a wide assortment of lumber products. It produced the components for barrel making, including the metal hoops that held the staves in place. It furnished ties, fencing stock and other items for the local railroads. The mill also made roof shingles and dimensional lumber for house construction. The ledger books kept for his business showed that getting paid on time was usually--but not always--a routine matter. In 1880 George Row delivered the materials for Henry Roberts to build a home near Spotsylvania Court House. For reasons lost to history, Roberts refused to make the final payment for this delivery. My great  grandfather successfully brought suit against him and a mechanic's lien was placed on Robert's property. In 1879 Mr. Row also received a settlement for money owed him by Carter Moore Braxton, chief engineer of the Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad.

George Row's settlement with the F & G Railroad, 1879

     In early 1881 George Row took on James Alfred Harris as his partner in the saw mill. Harris was a brother of Spotsylvania sheriff (and later clerk of court) Thomas Addison Harris. Row & Harris placed a notice in the Virginia Star announcing their partnership. They included a humorous advertising jingle.

Virginia Star 23 March 1881

     Another business man George Row partnered with was John Thomas Payne (1).  J.T. Payne owned a lumber business in Fredericksburg and he and my great grandfather were affiliated at least by 1880. In 1881 Row & Payne took over the operation of the shook factory in Stafford that had been owned by Dewitt Clinton Ellis.

John T. Payne's receipt to GWE Row, August 1880

Virginia Star 16 April 1881
     During the Civil War, D.C. Ellis (2) was a captain in the 1st New York Mounted Rifles. After mustering out of the service in July 1865 he settled in Fredericksburg and by 1868 was serving on the city council. Like George Row (and many other native Virginians) he was active in Conservative Party politics.

Fredericksburg Ledger 26 May 1871

     In 1871 D.C. Ellis bought a 140 acre tract of the Chatham estate overlooking Fredericksburg. By then he had already been in the lumber business with Carter Granville Heflin for two years. Ellis & Heflin operated a saw mill in Stafford until 1876. Before their partnership was dissolved the mill had moved a few times. Court records show that it was located for a time on the old Chatham property as well as on the farm of Daniel Embrey. Where it was located when George Row assumed management of its operations I cannot say for certain. (In the Shook Factory notice seen above, bookkeeper John K. Anderson was a well known Fredericksburg merchant. During the Civil War he was captain of Company A of the 30th Virginia Infantry. Among his diverse post war activities was a lumber business with partner Carter Moore Braxton.)

Virginia Star August 1882
     In August 1882 fire destroyed George Row's stave factory. It is not clear from the article whether this was his own operation in Spotsylvania or the one he managed in Stafford. In any event he put on a brave face for this newspaper reporter. A few months later he and J.T. Payne parted company in their business venture.

J.T. Payne buys out GWE Row's interest

Virginia Star 3 February 1883

     When my great grandfather died unexpectedly in April 1883 at age 39, the sad task of closing out his business and liquidating his assets fell to his widow. The estate sale was not a complete success. Benjamin Bowering offered to help find a buyer for the steam engine and boiler, but two years after George Row's death they remained unsold. My great grandmother sold the shooks and staves (at a heavy discount) to Fox Brothers in Baltimore.
Notice of estate sale of George W.E. Row

Bowering letter to Lizzie Row 1885

Fox Brothers to Lizzie Row, June 1883


(1) Payne was married to Mary Roach, sister of former Orange County sheriff and long time Fredericksburg auctioneer James Roach. James conducted the estate sale of George Row.

(2) Ellis was married to fellow New Yorker Mary Jeanette Hays. Two years after Ellis died she became the fourth wife of auctioneer James Roach.


  1. Wow. Amazing photography. I found your site quite interesting and the photography in site is really impressive.
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  2. Yet another great read, Pat. Thank you. Part of your skill is conveying Southern hospitality to readers, not just information. Icing on the cake, in this particular post, was the material on the Hope Foundry, whose prewar incarnation I've researched a bit over the years, and on Benjamin Bowering. Noel