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In The Beginning

After the Civil War and up to about the 1930s, New Bern was home to numerous lumber mills.  A number of mills were located along the Neuse River starting just north of Queen Street and extending all the way up to the location of the former Maola Dairy facility.  The earliest lumber mill in this area appeared in the 1870s.  Over the years the various milling operations were consolidated and by the early 1900s, New Bern had the largest lumber mill in North Carolina and one of the largest in the southeast – Roper Lumber.  The company had two mills in New Bern but the largest was north of downtown adjacent to today’s Riverside neighborhood.  It was milling over 100 million board feet of lumber a year at its peak.  Logs were delivered to the mill by railroad and by water with tugboats pulling long lines of logs chained together.

The Early Days

As a side note, there is an interesting historic photo of a football game taking place with the lumber mill in the background.  New Bern had a semi-professional football team in the early 1920s and the photo may have been taken by photographer Bayard Wootten during one of their games.

The Roper Lumber mills have a connection to the Biltmore Estate near Asheville.  The Vanderbilt’s estate had extensive forest land and George Vanderbilt decided he wanted the forest lands managed using the best scientific principles of forestry.  He brought in Karl Schenck to manage the forest lands.  Schenck started the Biltmore Forest School in 1898, the first forestry school in the United States.  Schenck brought his students to New Bern in the summer to study the Roper Lumber mill operations as well as the logging operations that fed the mills.

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"Milking" An Opportunity

Very little is left of the Roper Lumber operations.  Two of the original mill buildings still exist today in the Riverside neighborhood.  When the lumber mill closed during the Great Depression Maola bought some of the mill property and used the buildings for dairy truck repairs facilities.

The Transformation

Today, the 15,000 square foot space with sprawling 24-foot ceilings, original distressed brick, and welcoming seating areas has been transformed into a performance and event space, capable of accommodating indoor groups for weddings, reunions, or theatre performances. The outdoor space has unlimited potential for concerts with huge audiences.

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