Grays Harbor History: The Simpson Logging Company

Many names signify logging legacies in Washington state, whether those are names of families who have made their livelihoods from logging or the companies who employed them. One of those family names comes from the Simpson Logging Company – now called Green Diamond Resource Company – a six-generation family company that has managed forests from Grays Harbor County to Mason County and beyond the west coast. The Simpson Logging Company, like many rugged Northwest stories, began with one ambitious person.

Sol Simpson’s notable practices included using horses for work power rather than oxen, and he utilized the Walking Dudley, which pulled logs from the forest by cable and steam power. Photo courtesy: Simpson Archives

Sol Simpson’s Logging Beginnings in Washington Territory and Grays Harbor County

Sol Grout Simpson headed for Washington Territory in 1878 (some sources have him arriving in 1887). The American Gold Rush lured Canadian born Simpson to Nevada, and then he set his sights on the Pacific Northwest where he made a living hauling timber and grading railroad beds in Seattle. In 1890 he was able to start his own business, the S.G. Simpson Company. Incorporating in 1895, he changed the name to Simpson Logging Company. Sol Simpson died in 1906, and his son-in-law Mark Reed took on the business responsibilities.

Reed branched the company into other timber-related ventures in the 1920s. While the Simpson company had a heavy presence in Mason County, it logged in Grays Harbor County.

Grays Harbor mills cut more lumber than any place in the United States. Workers shipped so much lumber, that the port earned the title of Largest Lumber-Shipping Port in the World, and in 1924 Grays Harbor was the first port to ship more than one-billion feet of lumber by water.

Henry McCleary established his town as a logging camp. He also set up the McCleary Door Company, the largest of its kind in the world and had made a record-breaking 300,000 doors in a 60-day timeframe. Simpson purchased the town in 1941. Photo courtesy: ‘Family Trees’ by Robert Spector

Simpson Logging Company and McCleary History

Henry McCleary founded the town of McCleary as a logging camp in 1898. He had built a mill on Wildcat Creek and sourced Simpson timber. Despite McCleary’s accomplishment of building homes and equipping the mills and town with water and electricity, he eventually wanted to sell out. Simpson bought the town of McCleary in 1941 and grew their own employee population from a few hundred to 1,400.

Simpson decided to sell the plots in town to McCleary’s tenants and separated the town water source from that of the plywood mill, improved the infrastructure of the dam, reservoir and creek, then initiated separate chlorinated water systems. Simpson then sold the electricity and water facilities to the newly incorporated City of McCleary.

Logging is hard work and remote. Men lived in camps that moved by rail when the work relocated. Simpson camps and work extended from Shelton into Grays Harbor County. By 1898, Simpson had 80-miles of railroad track and eight camps. Shown here, ‘A Ceremonial Last Train.’ Photo courtesy: ‘Family Trees’ by Robert Spector

Preserving Grays Harbor County Forests and Jobs

The Sustained Yield Forest Management Act of 1944 changed things for Simpson and the timber industry. “Family Trees,” which narrates a century of Simpson logging history, explains that “The objectives of the 1944 Act were stabilization of communities and employment, preservation of forest industries and taxable forest wealth, guarantee of an uninterrupted and substantial source of forest products, regulation of water supply and stream flow, prevention of soil erosion and preservation of wildlife.” The arrangement combined the management of federal and private lands like Simpson’s in order to ensure continued resources and timber related work.

Simpson’s Cooperative Sustained Yield Unit, established in 1946, stretched from the South Olympic Tree Farm in the southern portion of Olympic National Forest, east toward Shelton, west toward the Wynoochee River, and southeast of Elma and McCleary.

Camp Grisdale in the Wynoochee Valley opened in 1946 and had 38, two-room bunkhouses and 52 family homes with yards. The camp was originally designed to be mobile but became a transfer station between logging trucks and rail cars. Photo courtesy: Simpson Archives

Green Diamond Resource Company and Simpson Logging 133 Years

Much has changed about forest work. The equipment has changed from oxen, spar poles, yarders and trains to trucks and track loaders and ever-more safety-embracing practices. Forest management changed, but a Simpson philosophy preceded the legislative stipulations.

“Sol Simpson had a forward-looking vision,” says Robert Marr, Green Diamond area engineer. “Before Sol got into the timber industry, there were a lot of big railroad companies that were moving out West and developing, and a lot of people came out to the West because there was a lot of timber to be cut. These individuals moved out West to cut timber, sold it and then defaulted on the taxes and lost the land essentially. Sol saw an opportunity to grow trees back in those areas and manage that land in perpetuity. I think that is how Green Diamond thinks today. We’re now a 133-year-old company, and our plan is to hopefully be here for another 133 years and keep managing the same land that we’ve been managing for the last 100 years, looking at future rotations the same way Sol did all those years.”

Camp Grisdale was named after George and Will Grisdale. Unmatched, the camp was vastly different than the first logging camps and was known for its generous meals in a cookhouse that could seat 300 people. Photo courtesy: ‘Family Trees’ by Robert Spector

While the company name has changed, its Green Diamond private forest ownership continues through Simpson descendants, and the company is unique in that it has its own crews instead of subcontractors as it manages just over 2-million acres. Similar to the 1940 CYSU, Green Diamond established a 50-year habitat conservation plan for its Washington timberlands, an agreement between Green Diamond, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and NOAH Fisheries. Goals are to have stream and wetland buffers to protect sensitive areas and yearly scientific monitoring to see if they are gaining the ecological outcomes they had projected.

The history of Simpson’s logging is rich and extensive, reaching far beyond the bounds of this article. Many personal stories of hard work and an extensive photographic record bring to life the early days of Grays Harbor County forests and logging camps.

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