Presentation marks Cotton-Hanlon milestone
ODESSA--In commemoration of Cotton-Hanlon's 100th year in business, Michael Hanlon delivered a chronology of the company's development and milestones Sunday, Sept. 26 at the Odessa Municipal Building. Hanlon, grandson of co-founder Howard A. Hanlon, began his career with the establishment in 1987 as CEO, and has held the title of president for the past 15 years.
In 1921, Burton J. Cotton and Howard Hanlon met at Sam Woodard Saw Mill in Wellsburg, and the business bearing their names was formed a month later, with their first mill at Wilawana. The following year, they bought a tract of timber near White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, but the timber's poor quality led to the failure of this enterprise, and the portable sawmill was shipped back to New York. For reasons that are not fully known, Odessa was chosen as the location.
Before long, the portable sawmills of the day became obsolete, and mills began to receive shipments of timber. In 1927, Cotton-Hanlon established their heaviest mill at Cayuta, more or less permanently, and a smaller one was built in the hamlet in 1959. On April 1, 1928, their first store opened in Odessa, with 16 box cars of timber arriving daily, and by 1929 their catalogs were delivered to 16,000 households. The ensuing Great Depression did not substantially affect their livelihood; at the time, their capital amounted to $61,000 (the equivalent of $900,000 in 2021), and their retail business brought in $25,000.
Throughout the decades, Cotton-Hanlon delivered their product worldwide for innumerable uses: railroad ties and car stock in the early days, when cars had wooden floors; various items required during World War II, maple used in high heels in the 1950s, the interior of the Elmira Reformatory in 1969, and, that same year, provided two million feet of lumber for bowling alleys that were being erected at a wild pace in Japan. Locally, Clipper Sports was a longtime client, using their wood to create skis, toboggans, sailboats and other equipment before these were replaced with more lightweight items.
In May 1947, Cotton-Hanlon opened its two and a half acre "Home Complete" store in Odessa, which furnished 25,000 homes over the next 15 years. With approximately 200 employees, the business reached new heights in the 1950s, importing lumber from Africa and Asia to be sawn in Cayuta and adding sawmills in Virginia and South Carolina.
On Aug. 5, 1962, fire destroyed the store after it was struck by lightning. Despite a $5 million loss, work began that same month on a replacement structure, and on March 14, 1963, the second opening was held, featuring a pen of deer and peacocks. This retail business was sold to Robinson Lumber in 1985.
1973 marked the opening of a new mill still in use today, with the original design almost unchanged. Howard Hanlon died Oct. 20 of that year; his partner had predeceased him in 1955. A report from 1983 stated the mill processed 40 tons of 24 species of timber per day. In 1993, Coastal Lumber Company bought the mill, and sold it to Wagner Hardwoods in 2001.
Today, Cotton-Hanlon is exclusively involved in land management, selling timber from their woodlots to the highest bidder. Wagner and Gutchess Lumber Co. of Cortland remain their primary customers.
Hanlon closed with an overview of his grandfather's four published books: Vanquished Americans (1943), a fictionalized account of Howard Hanlon's life from 1896 to early 1943, in which Odessa is renamed "Podunk"; The Ball Hooters (1960), focusing on the Pennsylvania logging industry from 1881 to 1960 (the title refers to one who rolls a log down a hillside); Delta Harvest (1966), an account of logging in the deep south from 1902 to 1966; and The Bull Hunchers (1970), named for one who removes logs from swamps, a history of sawmilling in the southeast United States from 1607 to 1970. All are available at the Peterson Library in Odessa.