#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Groups

I dropped off some groceries at my mom’s house yesterday, and she traded me a small bag of photos. Three of them are photos taken at the Muscogee Sawmill in Escambia County.

A whole group of my ancestors and other relatives worked at the sawmill. One photo shows the mill from a distance. The other two, I’m told, show my great-grandfather, James William Stevens, known as Billie.

A handwritten note on the back identifies this as “Muscogee Saw Mill.”

I wonder if the mill hired a photographer to take photos or if an enterprising photographer went on his own to take pictures of the community and its people, then offered prints.

When my mother handed me the photos, this one was on top. She pointed to the man and said, “That’s my granddaddy.”

Two of the photos show a man at work in the mill. My mother pointed to the one above and said, “That’s my granddaddy.” The only thing clearly written on the back is a column of figures; I think someone used it as a scratch pad.

“Billie Stevens” is written on the back. It appears to be my grandmother, Willie Stevens Cook’s handwriting.

The other photo with a person in it has a name written on the back. In what looks like my grandmother, Willie Stevens Cook’s handwriting, it says “Billie Stevens.”

The pictures aren’t in great shape after all these years, but when I zoom in, these look like two different people. What do you think?

When I searched “Muscogee Sawmill” on newspapers.com, I found an advertisement from the Liverpool (England) Mercury (April 12, 1889) offering shares in the Southern States Land and Timber Company, with assets including two mills in Muscogee. The country was growing, and they had a good forest of pine trees to turn into lumber.

The earliest record that I have that shows Billie Stevens’ occupation is the 1910 Census. He was 26 years old and working as a grocer, probably at the company store on mill property. He’s married to Mollie Pittman, and my grandmother Willie is one year old.

Right next door, Billie’s mother, Mollie née Reid is living with latest husband, Charles Muterspaugh, who works as a night watchman at the mill.

The lines just above the Muterspaugh family list William L.D. Nellums and family. William’s daughter Flora was married Mollie Reid Stevens Gilmore Muterspaugh’s nephew, James William Johnson. William Nellums was a farmer with a home farm.

Skim through a few more pages, and you’ll find Billie’s in-laws. His wife, Mollie’s, sister Nancy Pittman is living with her husband Warren Mathis, and their children. Turn a couple more pages, and there’s Mollie and Nancy’s brother Cleve Pittman and his first wife Laura. The census taker recorded Warren working at the lumber mill and Cleve working at the planing mill.

The 1920 Census shows Billie Stevens and Warren Mathis still living in Muscogee and working at the saw mill. Charles Muterspaugh is no longer in the picture; I have never found a death record, but his wife is listed as widowed. I haven’t found Cleve in the 1920 Census, but his mother and three younger brothers have moved from Baldwin County, Alabama, and in 1920, Medrick and Charlie are working at the tar plant, and Tom is at the saw mill. Quite a few Nellums are in the area as well.

The boom would soon be over, however. Articles published in Pensacola and Tampa in 1928 said operations were winding down, and the mills and land were being sold. The 1930 Census reflects the slowdown. In 1910 and 1920, there were 20 pages of residents in Muscogee. In 1930, there were only six pages.

Billie Stevens is still in Muscogee, listed as working odd jobs. His half-sister Lottie Muterspaugh is there, married to Everett Corley, who works for the railroad. I only see two people listed as working at the saw mill; a couple of others had “lumber” or “wood truck” as the industry. More people are getting cars by that time (I saw a car salesman and a mechanic living in Muscogee in 1930), so maybe more people worked at the mill who drove in from other areas. For the most part, though, the community was dying.

I found additional photos on the Florida Memory website. These are just a few of the images available there.

Gulf, Florida and Alabama Railway Company saw mill no. 4 in Muscogee, Florida. 20th century. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 27 Jun. 2021.<https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/17686&gt;.
Interior view of the Southern States Lumber Company mill – Muscogee, Florida. 1910 (circa). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 27 Jun. 2021.<https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/38989&gt;.

Saw mill at Muscogee. 1903 (circa). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 27 Jun. 2021.<https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/297014&gt;.
Interior view of the Southern States Lumber Company mill – Muscogee, Florida. 1910 (circa). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 27 Jun. 2021.<https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/38979&gt;.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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