One of our favorite recent pieces was Tony Donovan’s photo essay on Amos Congdon, which ran in the Spring 2013 issue. Amos was a woodsman from Lyme, Connecticut, who ran a sawmill in the 1970s. Donovan’s vintage photographs and prose captured the man, and the era, perfectly.
Tony went back to the mill with his camera last summer, and we asked him to write a short piece that summed up what things are like today, now that Amos is gone.
I first started taking pictures at Congdons’ sawmill in Lyme, Connecticut, in 1973; I was working there as part of the mill crew. It was the image of Amos Congdon that fascinated me most. Not only did he make a perfect picture of our “ancient father,” but his character was a match, thoughtful and wise.
When Amos passed away, the situation changed. The Sawyer and the other workers were wary of my camera. (Which makes the pictures in this collection of Mike “Moose” Evankow setting the “dog,” carrying slabs, all the more valuable.)
Operations continue, but the sawmill has fallen into disrepair. There are many reasons: economy of scale that this small operation can’t supply is, I suppose, the most obvious. The Sawyer’s maverick spirit is another. Sawing is a young man’s work; it’s either youthful energy or automation, and they have neither.
In towns like Lyme, open land where workmen can store their equipment and a toy or two is priced beyond their means. Over the years, friends’ small pleasure boats and trailers, old trucks, wrecked cars appeared in the lot where lines of wood slabs were once piled to dry for winter customers.
The Sawyer has had to adapt to keep his mill.
Though a few loggers, loyal friends, still bring in loads of clean logs, a lot of the wood on site is gnarled and twisted, a disorderly mess. Tree men and landscapers drop their loads of yard trees here to avoid dump fees.
Sawing trees from a dooryard is a gamble; the Sawyer wouldn’t have touched them in the past. Dangerous, sometimes, when they have lead or iron inside. Nails. The eyebolt from a clothesline. A deer slug.
Recently, the Sawyer had me take a picture of a stone, little larger than a golf ball, that the saw blade hit. It was hidden far inside the wood, in the second log of the trunk, which would have been 12 to 14 feet high when the tree was standing.
As a photographer, it’s been more challenging for me to figure out how to capture all that’s changed at the mill. At first I took pictures of the debris: rusting saw blades that lie around the shed, the broken tools and scrapes of wood, the oil-stained rags. But that didn’t take into account all the hard work that’s been done here, and still is done at this sawmill.
The saw blade, rusting, scarred with welds, still seems majestic and strong in the right light. I take pictures of the mill carriage, the iron car that carries the log into the saw, built by The Lane Manufacturing Company in Barre, Vermont. It’s been repaired with pieces from an older Amidon, which is a Connecticut mill where Amos Congdon and his oldest son worked before the present mill was built.
Both companies’ names are cast into pieces of the carriage. It has rusted to a deep red brown, with green mold growing onto that. And so it goes, the changes in this place I love. An industrial place turned green.