Lumber is one of Appalachia's greatest exports. The mountains of the region are rich in trees of both hardwood and softwood varieties, like hickory, oak, locust, pine, walnut, maple, cherry, ash, birch, and the great yellow poplars. The primary difference between hardwood and softwood trees is in the types of leaves, not in the actual hardness of the wood; hardwoods are deciduous and have broad leaves, while softwoods are coniferous and have needle-like leaves. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, settlers viewed the wealth and variety of mountain timber as one of the most important elements in their self-sufficient lifestyle. They fashioned their log houses from the trees of their homesteads and used wood for fuel, tools, furniture, and a variety of household goods.
The coming of the railroads in the mid-1800s changed this local pattern of consumption. Railroads opened up vast tracks of Appalachian timber to the industrial northeastern and Midwestern portions of the United States, who were suffering from depletion of their own forest resources. Large logging and lumber companies moved into West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina to exploit these rich resources. American hardwoods, in particular, were much prized both in our own country and in Europe. Commercial interest in Appalachian timber in turn encouraged railroads and logging firms alike to secure control over this bountiful regional resource as they moved through the area.
Thus , the Southern Appalachian hardwood lumber industry emerged as one of Appalachia's most important economic enterprises by the turn of the 20th century. The phenomenal growth of the industry was a direct result of five things: (1) the area's vast resources of hardwoods; (2) the area's railroad boom between 1880 and 1920; (3) the growing demand for Appalachian hardwoods at home and abroad; (4) the depletion of the woodlands in the Northeast and the Great Lakes states; and (5) the fact that the vast forests of the Pacific Northwest (Douglas fir, redwood, Sequoiah pine) were primarily softwoods, or pine.
In Dickenson County, located in southwestern Virginia, for example, eighteen lumber companies opened and expanded their operations prior to the First World War (1914-1918). Yellow Poplar, Currier, McCorkle, and N.B. Dotson were just a few of the firms that purchased timber rights in the county and began harvesting hardwoods during that period. One of the biggest logging operations in Dickenson County, Virginia, was the W.M. Ritter Lumber Company. In many respects it was also typical of the logging operations of its day.

Appalachian Hardwoods & the Early Logging Industry