Austin began as a lumber town. The Sinnemahoning Valley Railroad, the Goodyear Lumber Company and the Standard Kindling Wood Factory being the most prominent industries early on.
In 1884, Frank Goodyear purchased between 14,000 and 15,000 acres, that encompassed Freeman's Run at the upper end of the Sinnemahoning Valley. The Sinnemahoning Valley Railroad was built by Frank Goodyear to access the vast tracts of that untouched forestland. In 1885, the Sinnemahoning Valley Railroad began running from Keating Summit (then known as Forest House) on the Buffalo and Susquehanna Railroad (later became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad) east to a switchback and then south down the west branch of Freeman Run to the Goodyear sawmills in Austin, PA. All that remains here today is the old railroad grade along the west branch of the Freeman Run which lies within Susquehannock State Forest. Above is the Switchback Near Keating Summit (picture source: Pennsylvania Lumber Museum website)
By 1893, the Sinnemahoning Valley Railroad merged with the Buffalo and Susquehanna Railroad and by then extended sixty-two miles from Keating Summit on to Wharton and beyond. From Wharton, the rail line proceeded north east up the steep grade to Galeton. About 14 miles south of Galeton, four large switchbacks were required to get over the ridge and into Galeton. From Galeton the rail line ran eastward to Ansonia, with a 13-mile branch to the at that time booming logging town of Cross Fork. By 1901, the Buffalo and Susquehanna Railroad had built another extension from the Wharton mainline, south through Sinnemahoning to connect the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad near Driftwood.
In the town of Austin in 1885, Frank Goodyear built a huge Hemlock sawmill, and hauled cut timber logs to Austin by rail to get sawed into lumber and then used his rail line to transport the sawn lumber to the large cities. Goodyear’s innovation was the use of temporary railroads built into forested valleys, called tramways, to carry logs to his mills instead of floating the logs in the streams. In 1886, he extended the mainline 13 miles south to Costello, where there was a large sole leather tannery. The leather tanneries used the Hemlock bark, which was a by-product of the sawmills, for making tannic acid. This allowed Goodyear to benefit greatly by supplying one industry with the waste product from his lumber operation. Hemlock Tannins made the leather more resistant to decomposition and gave the leather a distinctive, deep reddish-brown color.
The Goodyear sawmills in Austin were known to be the world's largest at the time, with an annual output of 84,000,000 board feet of hemlock, and nearly as much in hardwood.
In 1886, Frank Blaisdell came to Austin and built the Standard Kindling Wood Factory, with his brothers. Their sawing machinery, stream drying kilns and bundling presses were of his own invention. The Blaisdell Brothers were pioneers in the kindling business and were credited to have the best design in the world. The Blaisdell Bros. mill had a capacity of sawing 100 cords of four-foot wood daily, giving employment to 150 workers. The kindling mill processed the wood slabs from the sawmills into kindling for use as firewood.
The picture above shows the Kindling Factory, which is the tall building next to Frank Goodyear’s big Hemlock sawmill. The Goodyear’s Lumberyard extended far into the valley below the Kindling Mill, and it had nine elevated tramways used as storage space for holding millions of board-feet of his cut lumber.
Austin became Goodyear's center of operations in the Sinnemahoning Valley, and was known as Hemlock City. Disaster struck when Austin was literally wiped off the map by a large flood caused by the failure of the Bayless Papermill Company concrete dam on September 30, 1911. The lumber profitability had already declined before then due to the expansive cutting of the Eastern Hemlock stands that cleared the hills of thier the old-growth forests. To make matters even worse, a board range of bad economic conditions affected the rail lines and the once-prosperous industries operating in the Sinnemahoning Valley from then on. Even the state-of-art papermaking pursuits by George Bayless started in 1901 failed to revive the area's economy and prosperity mostly due to the 1911 burst of the large concrete dam built in 1909 to provide adequate water to run the mill processes at full capacity during the seasonally dry periods of low flow in the Freeman Run headwaters. The rail line from Keating Summit to Austin was abandoned by 1941. By 1942, the rail lines south of Austin, running through Costello and Wharton, and all the way to Sinnemahoning, were also abandoned. And, that largely ended of the railroad era in these parts, except for the tiny village of Keating Summit which has the only active Pennsylvania Railroad line still running in Potter County yet today.
The Goodyear Hemlock Sawmill closed in 1911, and the Bayless Pulp and Papermill Company survived the breaking of the Austin Dam in 1911 as well as another smaller earthen dam break in the flood of 1942. However, a major fire in 1944 caused the Austin papermill to close forever. Only Ruins are left in this washed out valley on a 2-mile stretch along the east branch of Freeman devastated by the Dam breaks.
The two Freeman Run branches converge in Austin, from whence it flows as a single waterway to its mouth at Costello. Today Austin, PA and the surrounding communities are sustained in part by sustainable timbering of our highly-valued hardwood forests and by a number of long-standing light manufacturing industries in the area.
Please, stay off the Austin Dam ruins. This is a historical landmark. You are visiting a historic landmark, a place where a great tragedy occurred a century ago. This is a place of historical significance, and we expect that you will respect it as such. Stay away from the Bayless Pulp and Papermill ruins and view only from a safe distance.
© 2021 Austin Dam Memorial Association, Inc.