The French had an early interest in the vast forests of the Champlain Valley, sending their minister of forestry to evaluate its trees. Due to muck deposits in Quebec, the province’s land did not grow the best timber.
Prior to the Revolution, logs were prepared for the British market as squared timber rather than finished plank since Britain preferred to “add the value” in the mother country. Timber for export was rafted north to Quebec. White oak for barrel staves and ship construction and white pine for masts and plank were in the greatest demand.
As settlers cleared land, they burned the felled trees, processing the ashes into potash and pearlash, used to cleanse wool for bleaching and dyeing, and in soap and glass manufacture. Potash production was the most profitable endeavor in the 1790s and early 1800s, because it was high in value for its weight and thus economical to transport long distances. Initially much of it was made on the farm, but later “asheries” produced it in larger quantities. Once most land had been cleared the number of asheries began to decline, decreasing from ten in 1835 to four in 1855.
Although a few sawmills were built before the Revolution, and unmilled logs were rafted northward to Quebec for export to Britain, the lumber business expanded after independence. In 1795, British demand for U.S. lumber increased as the Napoleonic Wars cut off their supply from the Baltic. By the early nineteenth century, Clinton County was a leader in timber production; the completion of the Champlain Canal in 1823 transformed the business since canal boats could carry milled lumber; Clintonians built more sawmills and shipped their production southward. It peaked around 1845 when the six lakefront towns had 126 sawmills, producing $176,000 in finished product.
Paper production created a revolution in the logging woods after 1868, when a mill at Luzerne, Warren County, began making paper from wood pulp instead of rags. By the early 1870s many mills on the periphery of the Adirondacks produced pulp paper, and in the 1880s the business expanded hugely. For over a century northern New York produced vast amounts of pulp paper and supported the logging industry. It persists today, a small but lasting part of the regional economy