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College of Arts & Sciences
Maritime Research Division

Stray Dogs Scattered Reminders of SC Timber Industry

by Nate Fulmer, MRD

When the first settlers arrived in Charleston in 1670, the southern colonies sported a vast longleaf pine forest that covered an estimated 90 million acres. Ancient cypresses and a variety of other arboreal giants also towered throughout the region. As settlers moved inland and outward from Charleston and into the colonial frontier, the timber industry followed and eventually changed the appearance of our state forever. Today, it is difficult to imagine just how enormous the forests once were, as only a few isolated stands remain.

As the forests fell, much of the resulting timber made at least a portion of its journey to mill or market by water, tethered together by log dogs. Hobby divers recover these relic tools of the timber industry frequently across the state and dogs are occasionally even found in-situ by individuals licensed to recover vintage submerged logs from state waterways. Today, ages after the virgin forests that made the early South Carolina timber industry possible vanished from the scene, some of these stray dogs are finding new life and are being adopted into museum exhibits and private collections.

Experienced divers recognize these orphaned objects immediately, although some more creative identifications have included everything from hitching rings to tent stakes. Many variations of log dogs have been reported to us over the years, but the two most distinctive features of these tools include a small iron wedge or spike attached to an iron ring. The iron wedge of the dog was driven into a log, and chains ran through the rings, fixing logs together in order to surround and corral loose logs into a raft for secure downriver transport.

A classic example of a wrought iron log dog is pictured above. MRD volunteers recovered it during the 2013 Black River Project. It is currently undergoing conservation in the Charleston Field Office along with several other iron objects from that project. It will eventually join other artifacts already in our exhibit at the Georgetown County Museum.

A nearly identical dog was recovered by Jimmy Armstrong and Catherine Sawyer not far from the same location and is also undergoing conservation in an electrolysis tank in Jimmy’s garage. For more information on how he set up his tank, see his article about metal preservation in our Quarterly Reporter Vol. 5 Issue 4. Although the forests are gone, iron tools are some of the most prevalent tangible reminders of an important industry that, for better or worse, drove the evolution of the landscape statewide. If you’ve found a stray log dog or other relics of South Carolina’s timber industry, we’d love to see pictures. Please feel free to share your dogs with the community on our Facebook page!