BY ALLEN MARCUM
The W. M. Ritter Lumber Company of Columbus, Ohio came to New River in 1928 taking over the operations from the bankrupt Thomas Hall Lumber Company. Some idea of the scope of this operation is gained by a statement to this writer by HERMAN WILHITE, salesman for the old C. M. McCLUNG and Company, that the largest order he had ever received was shortly after Ritter came to New River. The order took three days to write up and was shipped in seven box cars. A goodly number of houses were built with rental from -0- to $7.50 per house per month. The mill was larger and afforded employment to 275 to 300 persons. In 1946, the original mill burned and was replaced by a circular mill. The output of this mill was 18,000 to 20,000 feet per day. In the late 1950’s, with the acquisition of larger timber resources, the circular mill was replaced by a six foot band mill cutting 25,000 to 28,000 board feet per day.
New River was a bustling company town when the W.M. Ritter Lumber Company was operating at full capacity in the early 1900s as is evident by this old photograph.
In addition to its milling operation, RITTER also operated two subsidiary companies in Scott County; one of which the Brimstone Railroad Company ran from New River to Little Creek, hauling lumber and coal. Employees of Brimstone Railroad ranged from 13 to 22. Another subsidiary of Ritter was the Red Jacket Coal Corp., with headquarters at Red Jacket, West Virginia. Red Jacket operated mines along Brimstone Creek until the late 1940’s. The operations in Scott County were by far the smallest of any of the mines in any state. At one time Red Jacket planned to build 40 houses in Scott County for its employees. Employment by Red Jacket in Scott County was probably in the 100 range.
The Company grew from a single mill in Mercer County, West Virginia, to become the largest manufacturer of hardwood lumber in the world with operations in eight states, a major producer of coal. It owned over 300,000 acres of land and at one time owned 72 locomotives.
During World War I, the business acumen of W. M. RITTER was recognized by the President of the United States when he was asked to serve on the Council of National Defense and later was one of six "big businessmen" serving with BERNARD M. BARUCH, on the Industrial Board of the National Chamber of Commerce. For this service he was paid $1.00 per year and was known as a "dollar a year" man. He was advisor to five Presidents of the United States.
Although greatly involved in national affairs, Mr. RITTER remained sensitive to the needs of his own business and to the needs of his employees making and implementing many innovative policies. His was one of the first businesses to have an employee pension plan, also one of the first to have an "in house" traffic manager. The first test of the newly passed "gift" tax feature of the Revenue Act was a result of the giving away of millions of dollars of his Company stock to loyal employees.
On October 1, 1960, W.M. Ritter Lumber Company merged into Georgia Pacific Corp.
Georgia Pacific operated the mill for about one year after the merger, then closed the New River operation. The timber available for New River was taken to a Georgia Pacific mill near Oliver Springs, Tennessee.
Georgia Pacific operated the Brimstone Railroad until 1665 when it was sold to the Southern Railroad.
FNB Chronicle, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Summer 1989
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
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