began in Louisiana in 1899
By Tom Kelly
Old Joyce, Louisiana, as opposed to Joyce, a couple of country miles away, exists today only in the living memories of a few old\_timers, mostly in their eighties. The ghosts of Old Joyce lurk in the sea of plantation pines on ground that was home to the first Tremont Lumber Company, a company town that thrived on the sawmill that made lumber from the virgin first forest of mature longleaf pines that reached seemingly to the sky.
One of the few remaining natives actually born there, Mrs. Ann Wilkerson Lasyone-Futch, the founding executive of Lasyone Insurance in Winnfield, reveled in the memories with me. (I was born there, too, but have no memory of the place, as my family moved away when I was about three months old, when the school closed at the end of the 1931 term. My dad, a teacher, moved us to a new teaching job at Gaar's Mill, where my first memories of life began.)
The visit with Mrs. Lasyone-Futch produced a trove of old photographs, papers, and other memorabilia during a visit to her office recently. (Her own personal account of her childhood in Old Joyce, is published here under her own by-line.)
The Old Joyce site lies to the southeast of Louisiana Highway 499, the route that turns east just beyond the present West-Fraser sawmill that is the current successor company to the original Tremont. The road heads to Sikes in Winn Parish, opposite the turnoff to Union Church, on the highway that connects to LA 34 about a half mile north of the Joyce intersection with US 84. A history of the development, related in a printed piece marking the 70th anniversary of Tremont, in 1969, tells the story.
"The company was founded in 1899 at Tremont, Louisiana, in Lincoln Parish, the town from which its name is derived. Operation then consisted of a small sawmill, which manufactured quality lumber from giant virgin pine.
"The Joyce interests, owners of Tremont, were aware from the beginning that the lumber nd timber business in the pine forests of central and northern Louisiana represented vast productive potential. Their long range pattern of expansion began to emerge.
"The first major expansion following establishment of the Tremont mill was the organization of a logging railroad to operate between the mill and the company's pine land at Eros, Louisiana. This was the beginning of the Tremont & Gulf Railway Company, which was the vital link with logging operations.
"Soon to follow was a mill at Eros, along with the acquisition of 40,000 acres of timberland and a connecting railroad. After that, the company bought the South Arkansas Lumber Company at Jonesboro, Arkansas, acquiring with the mill an additional 30,000 acres of timberland and a logging railroad.
"In 1906, Tremont purchased the Winn Parish Lumber Company at Dodson, with 50,000 acres of timberland, and a logging railroad. Soon after, another mill was purchased at Pyburn, Louisiana.
"At this point, the company railroad transportation consisted of 18 miles of track between Tremont and Chatham to the south, as well as 298 miles to Jonesboro and Dodson from the main line.
"Then in 1907, Tremont Lumber bought the Louisiana Lumber Company at Rochelle, Louisiana in Grant Parish, an operation involving two mills, and the Western Railroad Company with 10 miles of track. TO further implement operations, the Joyce interests in 1907 started a new railroad connecting Rochelle and Dodson.
"The Rochelle operation reached a peak production of 50 million board feet annually of hardwood and pine lumber. However, the supply of virgin timber was diminishing and it became obvious that other equipment was needed to handle smaller, second growth logs.
"Adjusting to these changing conditions, the management made two decisions--first, to phase out the Rochelle operation and hen to centralize manufacturing at Joyce, Louisiana, two miles east of Winnfield in Winn Parish, an ideal area because of its accessibility to forest lands, and other advantages such as rail and highway transportation.
"In 1949, a new mill was in operation at Joyce, Louisiana, with many of the employees from the Rochelle mill still on board. The company railroads were sold to Illinois Central and became part of the IC network.
Tremont was streamlined and ready for growth in a modern world.
"Tremont today (in 1969) is a company still on the move. Although the new mill built at Joyce in 1949 was modern for its day, due to expanding needs for housing and other industry materials, made complete modernization a compelling decision.
"The Joyce interests met the challenge. From 1960 to 1963, the company spent $2 million in modernization. As a result, Tremont Lumber Company now has the highest hourly production in the South. The sawmill, which specializes in production of dimension lumber for the construction industry, has an output averaging 50 million feet per year.
"In June of 1967, an additional $2.5 million was invested in a new 44,000 sq.ft. plywood mill. Annual production in the mill is 57 million square feet of 3/8 inch pine plywood.
"Still expanding, Tremont has just spent over one-half million dollars for an electronically controlled lumber sorter to speed its operations. The next addition will be a whole log chip mill, representing an investment of $40,000."
The lumber manufacturing on the Joyce site continues today, operated by West Fraser, a Canadian company, that acquired the plant from Plum Creek Timber Company, that began operations at the old Tremont Lumber Company site in 1997.