As the turn-of-the-century brought the next generation of restless, progressive entrepreneurs leaving their homes in the Midwest to carve out a new home, the population centered on Laurel where the sawmills saw blacks and whites working side-by-side, a growing middle class of merchants arise, Mississippi’s first museum built and the first public school for African-American children established.
|Eastman, Gardiner & Company sawmill plant occupied 26,000 acres of timberland on the south side of downtown Laurel, Mississippi from 1891 until 1937. The Eastman, Gardiner & Company plant contained a sawmill, shingle mill, planing mill, dry kilns, and a pole road which was transformed into a standard gauge steel-rail logging railroad running east out of Laurel.
In 1893, the existing sawmill was replaced by one much larger, with the capacity to cut 25-million feet of lumber per year. By 1897, the addition of new mill equipment increased capacity to 40-million feet of lumber cut per year and by 1902 production capacity reached 60-million feet.
Laurel and Northwestern Railway, a new logging railroad running northwest from the Eastman, Gardiner & Company sawmill, was built in 1897. The rail line continued expansion throughout the 1890s and 1900s, reaching the Jones, Smith, Covington, and Simpson counties and the Leaf River near Taylorsville.
Between 1917-1933, Eastman, Gardiner & Company also built hardwood mills in Laurel, forming the Eastman-Gardiner Hardwood Company and the Pascagoula Hardwood Company.
Eastman, Gardiner & Company capitalized on the lumber boom of the early 1900s, progressing the state’s economy and production. On October 9, 1937 the sawmill in Laurel and remaining timber holdings were sold to the Green Lumber Company, who operated parts of the plant on a greatly reduced scale throughout the 1940’s.