The trees have had more historical significance than any other aspect of Blue Elbow Swamp. As one of only a few bald cypress and tupelo gum bottomland hardwood areas along the upper Texas coast, the swamp encompasses the transition zone from freshwater cypress swamp to coastal marsh. Once a full forest of valuable wood. the land played its most significant role in the logging industry of the Orange area.
Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, as east Texas was settled by Europeans, the huge bald cypress and water tupelo became valuable building materials in the region and around the world due to their tendency to resist decay. Using a method called girdling. loggers cut through the bark around the base of the tree to kill it and let it dry our. The trees remained standing in that condition until flooding occurred during the winter, then were cut and floated down the Sabine River to the sawmills. Some of the stumps still bear these bark marks at their bases more than 100 years later.
While early means of logging did little permanent damage to Blue Elbow Swamp, equipment and methods used during the 1940s caused lasting damage to the ecosystem. The use of heavy diesel-powered draglines and wince boats helped loggers speed up productivity but also disrupted the proper flow of water for the growth of trees. The once full forest of valuable wood stands today as a landscape scattered with moss and cypress stumps.
Did You Know?
Because cypress resists rot, it was extremely desirable for construction in humid climates. Shipped from Orange to areas around the world, most of the famous plantation homes in the south were built of cypress and tupelo shingles.