"Mining" ancient cedars

uuglypher

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Jun 8, 2005
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Estelline, SD
Does anyone have knowledge about the practice of "mining" the swamps in the Pines for old, waterlogged prehistoric cedar trees? Supposedly during colonial times the practice yielded trunks of such size that they were useable as ships' masts. Some have claimed that the recovered old cedars were more than a thousand years old and had been preserved by the oxygen-free environment of the deep sludge of the swamps, and that when slow dried and milled they still had the aroma of cedar.

I heard about this from my dad , who had heard it in his youth, when I was a boy, but have never met anyone with living memory of the practice. In recent years quite a business has sprung up in harvesting waterlogged timber from the Great Lakes. The trees had been cut in the 18th century from pre-colonial virgin/old-growth stands and some became waterlogged while being rafted to the mills in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and sank. This old-growth, close-grained wood is now being salvaged and is highly sought after by mills that supply the needs of up-scale finish carpenters and craftsmen.

My interest is that when my joints and other reminders of advancing age keep me (only temporarily, mind you...) from another camping trip, one of my time-wasting habits is to putter in the shop making lots of sawdust and a few folk harps - and playing one in the evenings between sips of single-malt scotch. Western red cedar makes a great-sounding soundboard for a harp, and I've begun to wonder if quarter-sawn close-grained cedar from the depths of a Pine Barrens cedar swamp might do the same.? Truth-to-tell, even if it turned out not to be superior to other, more traditional tonewoods, I like the idea of a piece of the ancient history of the Pines being a part of a harp that I made and play.

Is there anyone out there who could tell me if such salvaged ancient cedar wood from the swamps is still harvested and if is it commercially available?

Many thanks,
Dave Graham
 

wis bang

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Jun 24, 2004
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I saw an episode of 'The New Yankee Workshop' where they did just that mined cedar from southern swamps. There is a commercial business doing it somewhere along the gulf coast. Norm made a nice project from the wood he purchased. these were cedar trees that were submerged by long ago storms...
 

Teegate

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I would bet that you would not be legally allowed to do it in much of the pines anymore. The restrictions are tough here now.

Guy
 

uuglypher

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Jun 8, 2005
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Estelline, SD
Yeah; I hear ya.
But I can't help wondering if anyone knows of any pieces of long-ago mined swamp cedar that are sitting in some old barn, shop, or garage...
Ah well ... probably not. Just a thought.

Dave

TeeGate said:
I would bet that you would not be legally allowed to do it in much of the pines anymore. The restrictions are tough here now.

Guy
 

bobpbx

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Oct 25, 2002
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That cedar mining was reported in at least one of the pines history books I've read. They used a long rod to probe down and I guess if they heard a "thunk" they would follow it to see if it was long as a tree, then dug it up. I rebuilt my living room using white cedar from the Double Trouble saw mill. I watched them saw it into rough beams. This was in 1982. They used a diesel engine.

There is a cedar tree in the bottom of cedar creek that I have often wondered about. I felt it with my foot while I was wading up the creek down by Dover Forge. I straddled my legs as far as I could and there was still cedar on both sides. That has to be one huge tree of unknown age.
 

uuglypher

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Jun 8, 2005
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Estelline, SD
Bob,
Was that white cedar from a submerged, buried log, or from standing timber?

BobM said:
That cedar mining was reported in at least one of the pines history books I've read. They used a long rod to probe down and I guess if they heard a "thunk" they would follow it to see if it was long as a tree, then dug it up. I rebuilt my living room using white cedar from the Double Trouble saw mill. I watched them saw it into rough beams. This was in 1982. They used a diesel engine.

There is a cedar tree in the bottom of cedar creek that I have often wondered about. I felt it with my foot while I was wading up the creek down by Dover Forge. I straddled my legs as far as I could and there was still cedar on both sides. That has to be one huge tree of unknown age.
 

Boyd

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I've also read about this somewhere, perhaps in "Iron in the Pines"? I also remember reading that these cedar beams were used to build Independence Hall.
 

woodjin

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Nov 8, 2004
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I do alot of fishing in the old bogs and come across tons of cedar submerged in the decaying sphagnum. Not just cedar stumps of course but full trees. These trees are always once standing timber and I don't recall coming across cut cedar. I would imagine they would be at a greater depth at this point. I am aware of this practice of mining cedar from the swamps but as Guy mentioned I doubt it could be in practice today. Bob and I found some recently in a bog that were pretty big.

Interesting that you make these harps. I'm a professional guitarist and I have thought about how neat it would be to make a guitar out of jersey cedar (the top anyway). However I am a player and not a luthier so that thought has remained just that...a thought. Basto has some cut cedar on display. I know there used to be a guy in tabernacle who had some. I'll look into it.

Jeff
 

uuglypher

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Jun 8, 2005
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Estelline, SD
I'd sure appreciate the effort, Jeff.
Even just 12-inch to 18-inch cut-offs of quarter sawn boards would be great!

Many thanks,
Dave



I know there used to be a guy in tabernacle who had some. I'll look into it.

Jeff[/QUOTE]
 

bobpbx

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Oct 25, 2002
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uuglypher said:
Bob,
Was that white cedar from a submerged, buried log, or from standing timber?
That is white cedar from a submerged log under the creek with just a small section jutting up through the sand.
 

uuglypher

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Jun 8, 2005
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Estelline, SD
Yeah, well ... Hell, I'll try riff sawn. Got some?
(anything but flat-sawn. I know that won't work!)
Look at the top of any decent acoustic guitar. If the grain density is in that range, it'll work for my purposes (in spite of the fact that most good guitars have a spruce top and I'm lookin' for Jersey swamp cedar)

BEHR655 said:
Quarter sawn! Now you're being picky. :D

Steve
 

woodjin

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Nov 8, 2004
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Yes, my guitar tops are sitka spruce, but I've played guitars with cedar tops that sounded quite good. I will try to find this guy I mentioned. There was an article about a piney a few years back who was making a living out of creating mantles and stairway rails and similar things from his family woodworking shop. In the article he was standing in front of some cut cedar trees in his shop. It will take a little looking around, it was a few years back. I'll keep you posted.

Jeff
 
Apr 6, 2004
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uuglypher,

My friend's grandma, who lives in weekstown, got a pretty penny some decades ago when a logging company discovered a preserved giant cedar submerged in her backyard swamp. Don't know much more about the topic than that.

Say, do you sell these harps you make??
 

uuglypher

Explorer
Jun 8, 2005
377
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Estelline, SD
>Say, do you sell these harps you make??<

I've thought about it, but my output is pretty sparse. I work on them as the spirit moves and time permits. I play the first one I made; my son got the second. Two more are in progress and are promised as a donation to the music program of our local school system (small, about 85 kids from K-HS)

The "Estelline Harp Works" is definitely running in the red, but the work force* definitely is happy in the work. I'd suggest that no one hold their breath till I finish one for sale. If you're interested in sources of American-made folk harps, I could supply you with some websites. If you'd like to make one for yourself, I'll steer you to an idiot-simple set of plans which, if followed reasonably closely, will result in a truly fine-sounding harp. And please realize that prior to building my first harp my finish carpentry experience involved bookcases built from cinder blocks and boards of somewhat appropriate width ... and my experience making musical instruments involved a comb and a piece of folded waxed paper.

Just to get this back close to on-topic, my interest is to build and to play a harp with a soundboard made of Pine Barrens swamp white cedar simply because it would be personally rewarding and satisfying to do so.

If you've more questions about harps, contact me off-list and I'll be glad to help as best I can.

Dave

*that would be me
 
Apr 6, 2004
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A Pine barrens cedar harp sounds like a very rewarding project. I'd be grateful if you could send me some idiot-simple directions for constructing one of these. My girlfriend and I would like to take that project on sometime soon. Please PM me some info when you find time.

Thanks

Gabe
 

Spung-Man

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Jan 5, 2009
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Check out this old post:

Also see:
  • Cook, G.H., 1857: Geology of the County of Cape May, State of New Jersey. Trenton, NJ: Office of the True American. pp. 75–83.
  • Federal Writers' Project, 1938: "Cedar Mining in New Jersey's Sunken Forest." Stories of New Jersey. 1937–38 Series, Bulletin 12.
  • Johnson, E.M., 1933: "Jersey Meadows Once Cedar Forest," Trenton Sunday Times Advertiser. 51st Year, No. 2, January 8, 1933.
  • Weiss, H.B., and Weiss, G.M., 1965: Some Early Industries of New Jersey (Cedar Mining, Tar, Pitch, Turpentine, Salt Hay). Trenton, NJ: New Jersey Agricultural Society. 70 pp.
There's a bunch more, but I'm too crunched for time to list them right at the moment.

Cheers,
S.M.