The richly textured wetlands of Merchants Millpond are patterned by sunlight and shadow, colored by autumn foliage.
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A lattice of sunlight and shadow encompasses bald cypress on Merchants Millpond. The bark of the cypress trees deeply furrowed like a desert landscape seamed by arroyos, weathered and eroded.
In the upper reaches of the millpond, one of the largest bald cypress trees survives in Lassiter Swamp, protected from the indiscriminate logging of the past century by the inaccessible swamp, too shallow to float a pullboat, too wet to support a mule.
The pullboat was the invention of William Baptist of New Orleans. Until 1889, the virgin stands of white cedar and bald cypress thriving in the deep swamp were protected by the fluid nature of the swamp if not by alligators, cottonmouth, and malaria. William Baptist’s invention changed that.
It was basically a steam engine on a barge fitted with a spool of heavy steel cable 5,000 feet long. The barge was anchored to pilings or trees and the cable reeled in, hauling cut trees through the slash and the muck where not even mules could gain a foothold. A smaller wire rope run through a block returned the cable to the cutting ground.
The pullboat was towed into position by tug and then used to clearcut the trees in spokes that radiated into the forest, each spoke 150-yards apart. Eventually, even more efficient means were invented to extract all the profit from the land. By the early part of the 20th Century, nothing of value remained.
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