by Michael D. Wynne
There are little hidden treasures that can be found all around CenLa, treasures that few people know about and really should know much more about. The Henry E. Hardtner House is one of them, the building, now located at the Southern Forest Heritage Museum site in Long Leaf, Louisiana. In fact, Hardtner is considered the “father” of reforestation in the United States. But the Hardtner House also serves a dual purpose as the official museum of historic Camp Claiborne!
Let’s start at the beginning. The first three decades of the 20th century came to be known as the “golden age of lumbering” in the South. Henry Hardtner was then President of the Urania Lumber Company. Urania, meaning “heavenly,” was a prime virgin longleaf pine tree harvesting area in LaSalle parish. Cutting timber in those days was devastating to the local eco-systems. Gigantic “skidders,” machines used to haul the timber from the forests to the mills, decimated the forests’ grounds. After the virgin forests were cut back, the land was abandoned and erosion of the soil often took over. With the policy of “cut out and get out,” no one was concerned with the replanting of the trees until Henry Hardtner came around.
Henry Hardtner was the first to promote large-scale reforestation in the South. He determined that he could re-grow cut forests in 50-60 years and could do this through several practices: fire prevention efforts, the planting of pine tree seedlings, and the fencing out of hogs from planting areas as hogs ate the seedlings. But, Henry did not just stop there. In 1919, he convinced the President of the Great Southern Lumber Company located in Bogalusa, a company that was considered the largest in the world, to also implement reforestation. Hardtner also convinced the senior class from Harvard University to annually come down to Urania to learn about reforestation and take this process and implement it around the United States. Hardtner was truly ahead of his time and helped save American forestry.
As far as personal history, he was born to E. J. Hardtner and the former Emma Schraeder, both of German ancestry, in Pineville. The elder Hardtner emigrated from Germany in 1865 and was a shoemaker by trade. E.J. Hardtner built a small sawmill ten miles north of Alexandria. Henry Hardtner worked in his father’s business and later studied bookkeeping before entering the lumber trade. Henry Hardtner is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Pineville.
Hardtner’s office, built circa 1910 as a two-story edifice with an attached carriage house, was originally located at Jackson and 18th streets in Alexandria. The magnificent office floor was artfully created with select pieces of wood and display a large Masonic symbol. Hardtner’s grandsons, Henry and Billy Blake, initially donated the building to the Alexander State Forest, but the building was later moved to Southern Forest Heritage Museum where it was professionally restored. The building not only recreates Hardtner’s office from a century ago, but gives the fascinating history of reforestation in America.
In the attached carriage house, a small museum was created devoted to World War II’s Camp Claiborne. In 2015, the U. S. Forest Service partnered with Southern Forest Heritage Museum to honor the 75th anniversary of historic Camp Claiborne. Camps Claiborne, Livingston, and Polk housed 50,000 troops during the war making it, for a time, the third largest city by population in Louisiana. The site of Camp Claiborne, located just off Highway 165 South of Alexandria, was an immense training ground for troops entering the war, but by 1945, the camp was demolished and gone. The remnants of the camp today are fascinating to drive through and tour.
The Camp Claiborne Museum and Henry Hardtner office are both small, but still are excellent additions to the many historic buildings, museums, and displays at Southern Forest Heritage Museum and Research Center. Go take your family and spend a day there sometime! Pictured above is Dr. Jim Barnett, curator of the museum at Southern Forest Heritage.