In Holmes County’s early development, the virgin pine forests were the incentive for many pioneer families coming to the area. Timber for lumber and the related naval stores industry were major contributors to the economy. But a later business boon in the 1930's was when Grief Brothers Cooperage Company brought its Heading Company to Bonifay. For my younger readers a cooper is one who makes containers of staves and metal bands and a cooperage is a place where such containers are made.
Wooden barrels and kegs had many uses. The turpentine industry and the whiskey industry as well as the shipping industry relied on wooden barrels to ship their products. I can remember when nails came in kegs. Other hardware items were also shipped in kegs. Though the Bonifay Heading Company didn’t make the barrels and kegs, they were an important part of the process.
They made the barrel heads, the round piece with which the top of the barrel of gum or other product was sealed for shipment. They also made the staves with which the kegs were made.
I don’t know the number of employees the mill had, but through the years, many families were connected with the mill. I talked with Ray Brooks, Bruce Roberts, and Son Chance all of whom had contact with the mill. Both Ray’s parents had worked there and they had lived in a house near where the mill was located.
Bruce Roberts is the son of the late John L. Roberts who was the mill Superintendent at the time of its closing in the mid 1950's. They also lived near the mill in what was known as the Sessoms house across from Jerkins Inc. Grace Donaldson worked there with Roberts as office receptionist/typist and Minter Seig was the mill boss.
Prior to Roberts as mill superintendent was Merrill Tucker. Son Chance said that he was in Mr. Tucker’s boy’s Sunday School class at First Baptist Church. During that time, King Sandusky was the mill boss. At some point during its history, Bonifay Heading Co employed James Davis, a one-armed black man as night watchman. He also cut the cudzu around the property with a sling blade. Bruce told me that Davis lived at "Happy Corner" on Oklahoma Street near the railroad track.
Son Chance’s father Jim Chance and his crew logged and delivered the wood to the mill where it was green cut and put into the drying kilns. Using mule teams and oxen teams, the logs were felled and trimmed in the woods; then, loaded on trucks. Often, the load would be so heavy the team or teams of oxen would have to help move the truck to firm ground where it could proceed under its own power. Mr. Dave Leavins and others worked with Mr. Chance. Son’s uncle Rufe Devon was a timber cruiser for the company. Henry Bruner, the father of the late George Henry Bruner hauled away the crooks and sold them for whatever he could get for them. Some helpers of Mr. Bruner’s were Arthur D. And Hubert. Payne.
Crooks were pieces of wood left from the stave cutting. Since these required curved boards, there were the outside crooks which were considered waste after the cuts were finished.
The most dangerous jobs were for the sawyers who pushed the log pieces through the saws, particularly the jointer which had projections. Many of these workers lost a finger or fingers in this work as they guided the short pieces of timber with which the barrel heads were made.
The saws and other equipment were run by steam produced by burning the debris from the barrel heads and nail keg staves.
Numerous families came to and went from Bonifay to work at the mill. Many will remember the Hackneys and their large family of children who attended Bonifay schools. Other locals whom Son could recall were several Davis boys, Wesley and Joel Gardner’s father, Mila Steverson, Claud Redman, Jasper Evans, King Roan, Brown Burnham and his boys, Carl Braxton, and Mancil Newsome. These are just some of those who contributed to Bonifay and Holmes County’s economic development while finding gainful employment at home. The days of the timber and related industry are past, but it would be great if some other industry would discover the attributes of our community and bring some much needed jobs to our county. Our Chamber of Commerce continually strives to make that happen.