business behind pulling up those old "sinkers" is Cape Fear Riverwood,
based in Navassa, N.C. In January 2008, Jesse Jarrell and wife Anna
acquired the business that turns river-recovered wood and
lumber into high-end flooring, paneling, beams and mantel pieces --
despite the fact that neither had experience running milling machinery.
"I look at it as an adventure," says Jesse. They pair were drawn,
as are the company's customers, to the unique history and lore of
the logs themselves.
story of the logs begins more than three hundred years ago. In the
when North Carolina was originally settled, its forests were dense with
long leaf pine and cypress trees. They were slow-growing trees, taking
up to 200 years to reach maturity and, as a consequence, were extremely
durable. It became the lumber of choice for boats, buildings and homes.
King George III claimed the largest trees within three miles of the
Atlantic for himself -- earning heart pine the nickname of "the king's
wood." Cut timbers were floated down the Cape Fear River to the port
city of Wilmington, where saw mills stood. Loggers stored the logs in
holding pens on the river, because the supply was so enormous and
it kept them from cracking. Inevitably, the densest logs sunk to the
bottom of the river and embedded themselves in the silt and mud. Because
the supply was abundant and there was no way to retrieve them, loggers
didn't bother reclaiming their loss. Deprived of oxygen, the logs
remained under the mud, without rotting, for sometimes hundreds of
that historical back-story helps today's log-recovery team at Cape
Fear Riverwood locate where to find old timbers lying at the bottom
of the river. "The process starts out with historical information
-- old maps showing where different things were. When we see an
marker, like where a log pen might have been, we go in with sonar to
look for activity on the bottom," Jarrell explains. His team uses
a crane to lift out mostly pine and occasionally cypress -- and a lot
of mud in the process. Then the recovered logs go to Cape Fear Riverwood
end product is riverwood -- golden-toned, custom-milled, heart pine
lumber. "It's got a lot going on, from a color and grain standpoint,"
says Jarrell. "I think everybody who hears the story finds it
They want to know how the logs got there, how we got them up and what's
our manufacturing process is." William and Sharon Keech in Raleigh
wanted to know more. So before making a decision, they drove to
and what they saw at the mill swept them away. "We were totally
for how beautiful it was," says Sharon. "And we were fascinated
by how much care Jesse took with the wood, how labor-intensive the
is. My husband made the decision right on the spot. I remember thinking,
'I would love to live with this.' It felt like satin under foot."
The Keeches remodeled a third of the second story of their home with
recovered riverwood. "During installation, our builder kept stopping
the process to take photos. He said it was the most beautiful thing
he'd ever done," Keech says.
Using repurposed wood means
no living trees are cut. And the supply of river-recovered wood is
Since 2000, the team has been retrieving logs from the same mile-long
stretch of the river -- and they have three more miles they can tap.
The only "new" flooring Cape Fear Riverwood sells is FSC-certified,
made from trees that have been sustainably harvested. In an effort to
be fully green, the Jarrells recycle all their company's byproducts:
Sawdust and shavings go to local horse farmers for bedding, and the
rippings (the part of the board that is trimmed off) and bark are turned
into mulch. "I think the previous owners burned a lot of the waste,
but we changed that. We thought it was important to do," Jarrell says.
taking care of remnants of North Carolina's past, the Jarrells are
looking out for future generations of Carolinians by following
practices. And in the process, they're helping customers make their
own connection between the past and the future. "It was exciting to
see the wood and how they harvest it out of the river. And I'm left
with the feeling that the history of North Carolina is in our floor,
that we can feel it under our feet," says Sharon Keech. "We didn't
just buy wood, we bought a story."