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Good as gold: the timber industry celebrates a birthday at Crossett and Fordyce.

The pine tree often is referred to as the gold of south Arkansas.

The dense forests that dominate the Gulf Coastal Plain also dominate the region's economy.

Towns in Ashley, Cleveland, Dallas and other south Arkansas counties came about because of the timber industry and still depend on that sector of the economy.

Crossett, created as a company town, is home to one of the largest timber complexes in the world. It is operated by the Georgia-Pacific Corp.

This year marks that 100th anniversary of the birth of what would become Georgia-Pacific's Arkansas operations, according to George Balogh.

Balogh is group executive of research and development at Conway's Acxiom Corp. and a part-time instructor at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway. He has spent a decade researching the history of southeast Arkansas.

Three men struck gold so to speak when they formed Fordyce Lumber Co. in February 1892.

Charles Warner Gates, John Wenzel Watzek and Edward Savage Crossett bought a 4-year-old mill and acquired 5,000 acres of timberland, three miles of railway and equipment capable of producing 25,000 board feet of lumber per day.

The trio's combined talents led to explosive growth for the timber industry in south Arkansas.

Gates ran the lumber operation. He had operated Edward Crossett's first sawmill at Eagle Mills near Camden.

Watzek was a shrewd estimator of timberland values.

Crossett, meanwhile, brought more than four decades of experience to the partnership. He came to Arkansas in the 1880s and purchased thousands of acres of timberland for about $1 an acre.

G-P Moves In

Within four years of starting the Fordyce Lumber Co., the partners began the Crossett Lumber Co.

Through numerous land acquisitions, including a $2 million purchase of 47,000 acres in Ashley County and Morehouse Parish, La., the partnership built a permanent land base.

The town of Crossett, named for Edward Crossett, was home to more than 500 Crossett Lumber Co. employees by 1902.

The Crossett Lumber Co. was purchased by Georgia-Pacific in 1962.

With more than 3,300 employees, G-P's Crossett and Fordyce operations process products from 750,000 acres.

The Fordyce plywood operations have an annual production capacity of 300 million SF. Another 9 million board feet of hardwood lumber is produced there.

The larger Crossett complex consists of two plywood plants, a stud mill, a pulp and paper mill, a chemical plant and administrative offices. The Crossett operations annually produce 645 million SF of plywood and 68 million feet of stud lumber. The Crossett complex also produces 3,600 tons of pulp and paper products each day.

Max Braswell, assistant public relations manager at the Crossett complex, says G-P has more than $1 billion invested in Arkansas a century after Crossett, Gates and Watzek formed their partnership.

"There's as much timber now as there was back then," Braswell says. "Their vision was that the forests would be a perpetual resource for the area. I think they would be pleased.

"Most folks, even within our own organization, don't realize this is the 100th birthday. Still, this area owes a lot to those three men."
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Title Annotation:Across Arkansas; Crossett Company Inc.; Fordyce Co.
Author:Harper, Kim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Mar 30, 1992
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