If you drive on Cedar Lake Road, you probably notice in some areas the waters of the Tchoutacabouffa River on the west side of the road can look almost even with the roadbed. But did you know there’s an island in the river that has a surprising history?
Cedar Lake Island is mostly obscured from the road, but the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain has access to it. In partnership with the Mississippi Heritage Trust, it has worked to preserve the island and provides opportunities to visit the spot through appointment only. The island is a popular destination for schoolchildren’s field trips as well as birders.
The island now is mostly overgrown, but more than 70 years ago, it held a thriving but small company town known as the Vinny logging community. The L.N. Dantzler Lumber Company’s timber operations were here, as well as housing for several of the sawmill’s employees, plus a church, a school and a nightclub. The Dantzlers acquired the island in 1919 from Lewis Henry Krohn; the island had been in the Krohn family since 1882. The Land Trust bought the island from a descendant of the Dantzlers.
The lumber company operated there until 1926. The river was convenient for schooners that transported lumber and byproducts, such as charcoal and turpentine, to the mainland; a dummy rail line was used to haul the logs to the sawmill.
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Today, a few reminders of the sawmill and its boom years remain. Remnants of a brick foundation are believed to be the sawmill’s power generator. In other areas, scattered, century-old bricks bear the names of their manufacturer. A closed pipe is believed to be from the artesian well that provided water to the island.
There are a few fenceposts that Land Trust Executive Director Judy Steckler said could be reminders of when cattle were raised on the island. Reminders of nature’s strength, such as a damaged boat still lodged in the forest, also can be seen.
For today’s visitors, the Mississippi Trust has created a 3/4-mile (out and back) trail where bottomland hardwood forest, upland oak and pine ridges, cypress and gum ponds and bayhead swamps can be seen. Birds that have called the island home include pelicans, osprey and great blue herons, and migratory birds frequently use it as a stopover.
When Steckler leads young students around the island, she points out how different life would have been for its residents compared to the conveniences of today. She also makes sure they understand the importance of maintaining natural areas.
“There are just some places that should never be developed,” she said. “This is one of them.”