Williams Gallery West - Fine Art

Dimensions: 20 wide x 16 high inches

California plein air oil painting of the sawmill at Big Creek Lumber Company near Davenport California.  

"Burned Out"

by Lucille Kent

oil on canvas

circa 1960


Impressionistic style with heavy texture rendered in brush and palette knife.  The scene depicts the mill shortly before its destruction by fire in 1960.

Condition is good. Painting is bright and un-faded. 


Big Creek Lumber Company  was founded in 1946 by Frank McCrary and family, and is still in business today.  Big Creek's goes back much further than the 50-plus years the company has been in business. In the 1850's, Joshua Grinnell worked as a whaler along the California coast.  He returned by wagon train in 1863 with his wife and  stepson Vid Trumbo.  In 1869, Grinnell purchased a 147-acre tract of land on Big Creek in the area now known as Swanton, with money earned mining gold north of Santa Cruz.  Six generations later, his descendants, the McCrarys, still call the area home.

 Big Creek Lumber Company got its start in 1946. Upon returning from service in WWII, Frank McCrary and his two sons,  pooled $7500 in cash and war bonds, and  began logging operations along Mill and Scotts Creeks.  In 1947, the company expanded, constructed a sawmill in Waddell Creek canyon using war surplus landing craft diesel engines for power.  In 1948 a small planing mill was built on Highway 1 near Greyhound Rock, where lumber from the sawmill was surfaced. In 1955, after a heavy storm washed out five bridges in the Waddell Creek canyon, the partners decided to move the operation to the coast and built a new sawmill on the inland side of Highway 1. They chose Big Creek Lumber Company as the new name for the business when they filed for incorporation on April 22, 1960.

Shortly after midnight on June 21, 1960, fire broke out in the uninsured, wood-framed sawmill, reducing it to tons of scrap metal in a matter of minutes. The cause of the fire was never discovered. Despite the disaster, the McCrary family decided to upgrade the mill and increase production. Within days, they began to operate with a portable sawmill and to search for sawmill machinery. A new concrete and steel mill was producing lumber before the end of the year.  Today, Big Creek's mill cuts, planes and processes over 100,000 board feet of lumber per day.  The company has approximately 235 employees at six locations. 

The McCrary family's reverence for the land is one of the main reasons Big Creek Lumber Company has become widely recognized for its strong environmental ethics.  Over the past 50-plus years, Big Creek has taken the initiative to find solutions to the environmental and aesthetic problems frequently associated with logging and has been a leader in setting standards for forestry practices. 

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