A company rich in history

Since 1912, Wood Lumber Company has provided Cape Cod with quality lumber, hardware and services.

When the Wood Lumber Company celebrates the anniversary of its founding this summer, the Miskell family will take pride in having run an extraordinarily successful local business for 100 years.

What third generation owners Dana and Eileen Miskell might be proudest of, however, is the praise that comes from its contractors, vendors and community.

“They have employed and continue to employ only quality people. They carry only quality products at a fair price. They always offer contractor support and stand behind what they sell,” said Mike Duffany of Duffany Builders, who has been a Wood Lumber customer for more than 35 years.

It is when the stories become personal that the integrity of the ownership becomes even more apparent. Michael Katon, Jigsaw Construction, a customer for at least 25 years, said, “When I first came to Falmouth to start a construction business I had little or no credit history. Bud Miskell (Dana’s father) gave me a line of credit when other lumber yards would not. I’ve never forgotten that.” Mr. Duffany added, “One of my fondest memories is when Bud offered to let me upgrade my own house to Andersen windows and pay for them over time. We would pay as much or little as we could afford each month. Nobody was ever that generous to me.”

The high standards of community concern and involvement were set early on. James Miskell, Dana’s great-grandfather, had been for many years general manager of the New Bedford-based Greene and Wood Lumber Yard, a chain of lumber warehouses that dated back to 1835. The yard’s owner, Edmund Wood, saw the potential for growth in Falmouth and decided to open a branch. They bought James Cameron’s small lumber yard on Locust Street in 1912 and sent James Miskell’s son, Joseph, to Falmouth when he was 22 years old to manage the new branch. The first ad that the new company, known as the Wood Lumber Company, ran in the Enterprise promised “New Facilities for Falmouth” and that they would “welcome all the old customers and try to win new ones.”

In 1926 Edmund Wood, George R. Wood and John T. Hanna Jr. formed a corporation to be known as The Wood Lumber Company. James and Joseph B. Miskell, John Hanna, Edmund and George Wood were on the board of directors. A book of minutes of the corporation was carefully maintained by Joseph Miskell’s wife, Mary.

With the stated purpose to “carry on a general business in hardware and building materials, cement, lime and paint,” the Wood Lumber Company in 1926 had “3,000 shares of common stock, $304,484.18 in assets (lumber; brick and flue lining; hardware and paints; notes receivable; real estate; dwelling house; garage; accounts receivable; mortage notes receivable; Lawrence Property; inexpired insurance; auto trucks; cash, and $31,370.84 in liabilities (notes payable, accounts payable, depreciation),” according to the corporation meeting minutes.

Instructions for the company seal were dictated in the first meeting of the incorporators: “The corporate seal shall consist of two concentric circles between which shall be the name of the Corporation, and the word “Massachusetts,” in the centre shall be inscribed “Incorporated 1926.”

By 1936, the company was well on its way to success. A headline in the Falmouth Enterprise, “Big Concrete Block Order Comes Here” and the story that followed told of a “contract in the mail for delivery of 145,000 concrete blocks for camp building construction.” This was the beginning of Camp Edwards in Bourne, later part of the Massachusetts Military Reservation, which included Otis Air National Guard Base and Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod.

The Enterprise article noted that the Wood Lumber Company “bid on blocks as manufactured by the Concrete Products Company of Falmouth and will fill the order entirely from the Falmouth-made blocks. Each day’s shipment will weigh about 75 tons. The trucking will be done by Eldredge and Bourne. Award of the contract to Falmouth will add considerably to employment here all through the fall.”

In 1940, with World War II looming, the U.S. Army leased Camp Edwards to use as a training facility, and began construction to house 30,000 soldiers of the Army’s 26th Yankee Division.

With this major construction underway came “Joseph B. Miskell’s spectacular moment in business,” the Enterprise reported, “when Thomas J. Walsh arrived to start building Camp Edwards. Purchase Order No. One, which now hangs in The Wood Lumber Company, was issued by the Walsh company for a few pounds of sweeping compound, a few pencils and erasers. Within 72 hours, Mr. Miskell delivered the first 200,000 feet of lumber at camp. With great resource and enterprise Mr. Miskell saw to it that the Falmouth supplier won substantial share of the material orders for the camp.”

During this time, as the town recovered from the Great Depression prior to World War II, it faced another challenge as the Hurricane of 1938 tore through New England. Building materials were scarce, but Joseph Miskell took out an ad in the newspaper announcing that the company had “adequate stocks,” and that “the Wood Lumber Company is in a position to furnish money for materials and labor required to repair hurricane and flood damage and restore homes.”

The Wood Lumber Company continued to grow through the war and postwar years. In 1957, Joseph Miskell died. His obituary read, “he built it into one of Falmouth’s greatest business successes. As he did so, he took a lively interest in Falmouth affairs. No man worked harder for the town and the Cape. Mr. Miskell was, too, a thoughtful and kindly friend who unobstrusively did much for neighbors around him.”

Fortunately for Wood Lumber, Joseph’s son Joseph Jr., better known as Bud, was ready to take over. Bud Miskell was known to his friends and teachers as bright, energetic and athletic. As a Lawrence High School senior in 1939, the Enterprise sports page reported that “after playing 108 games of tennis in 12 sets from 9 AM to 5 PM, Joseph B. Miskell Jr. fell in the finals of the Southeastern Massachusetts schoolboy tournament in Brockton,” and that “when he finished the grueling day of tennis, Bud had dropped 8 pounds from his slender frame.”

Bud Miskell went on to enroll in Dartmouth College. In 1942, with World War II underway, he and a group of Dartmouth students enlisted together in the air corps in 1942. He still managed to graduate from Dartmouth in 1943.

As a “Navigator in a liberator bomber,” he wrote to his father that “we did take part in the invasion” in 1944. In 1945, he was awarded the “third oak leaf cluster to the Air Medal… for his coolness, courage and skill on bombing attacks over Germany.”

When he took over in 1957, Bud planned for the company’s growth. In 1960, the Falmouth planning board approved applications for subdivision by Wood Lumber Company of land on the north side of Locust Street for additional facilities. It was during this time that the front entrance was moved from Locust Street to the parking lot.

On the evening of February 7, 1968, a bright red glow in the sky could be seen miles away as a fire swept through the Wood Lumber Company. The general alarm fire – Falmouth’s first of that nature since 1953 – was battled by 120 Falmouth firefighters and callmen, with help from seven other fire departments. The fire spread quickly, fueled by stacks of lumber and a brisk wind. In the end, Bud Miskell estimated damages at $100,000 to $150,000.

Wood Lumber’s parent company, Greene and Wood, had also faced a devastating fire in the late 1880s. But, as George A. Hough wrote in 1889 in New Bedford, MA: Its history, industries, institutions and attractions, “This mill was burned a few months ago and almost wholly destroyed, but a greater has arisen from its ashes…”

And the Miskell family did not let the fire stop Wood Lumber Company. Later that year, a 120 x 80 foot open structure with steel girders supporting an aluminum roof had been completed that took the place of several smaller buildings that had been destroyed in the fire. The Enterprise reported that “Translucent doors and roof panels give considerable illumination even when the overhead lights are off…Doors are 18’ wide and 14’ high. ‘Any size trailer can go in for loading or unloading,” said Mr. Miskell.

Builder Bill Newton of Falmouth worked on the fire renovations. He recalled, “When I was rebuilding the main shed after the great fire, many of the employees seemed to be amused watching me in the trenches. To curb their amusement I suggested to Bud that he would save quite a bit of money if he put his employees to work. I was fairly unpopular from that day on – except with Bud.

In the years that followed, another generation of the Miskell family began to get involved in the family business. Sons David and Dana began working at the lumber yard during their high school and college vacations. Daughter Deborah worked for “exactly one week,” she recalled with a laugh, before she moved on to the National Marine Fisheries, a job more in line with her interests at the time. She recalls driving around town with her father when she was a child, and he would point out houses and tell her what kind of lumber Wood Lumber had supplied for their construction.

By 1986, Dana and his wife Eileen were ready to return to Falmouth from Boston, where both had worked since college, Eileen in the business department of New England Deaconess Hospital and Dana in the computer industry.

“My father let us take over right away,” said Dana. “It doesn’t usually work that way. He trusted us.” Bud continued to work full time, then part time until he was 80.

Bud Miskell died in 2009 at the age of 88. Ever the athlete, he had bicycled 20 miles the day before he died.

Since taking over, Dana and Eileen have made several changes in the physical plant, the most noteworthy being the showroom that was built in 2002. But the major change in generations was in the technology. “When we took over in 1986, it took weeks and weeks to conduct inventory,” Eileen said. Within the next year, they were well into the electronic age. Bud would look up customer accounts on the computer. “He knew one sequence of key strokes,” said Dana.

As for the lumber business, Dana said, “In the past 25 years there have been more changes than in the first 75 years of Wood Lumber. There is increased competition on the Cape with many other family owned lumber yards and the last 10 years especially have brought major product changes.”

Greg Souza, Wood Lumber’s hardware manager, has seen these changes first-hand in his 31 years at the company. PVC trim has replaced wooden trim on many houses, both in new construction and renovations, and there has been a shift in sales to composites, he said. Dana added, “Not only are product choices much more complex, but the technical aspects of framing a house are too.”

In addition, Mr. Souza said, “Changes in building codes have led to more expensive products. The Cape has been designated a high-wind zone, which adds 20% to costs of building materials compared to, say, Middleborough.”

What has not changed is the staff. “Most of our employees have been here 10 years or more,” Mr. Souza said. “Lots of Wood Lumber’s success is due to the length of time employees have been here. We don’t have a high turnover rate, and it provides a good atmosphere for both the employees and customers.”

For Mr. Souza, it did not initially appear that he would have such longevity at Wood Lumber. “I was first hired in June of 1981 and tentatively fired in August. It had to do with arriving late to work, since I rode my bike from East Falmouth., Bud made a deal that I could stay on until I found another job and until Bud found my replacement. That was 31 years ago,” he laughed.

Adding to the success of Wood Lumber, Greg Souza said, is the “amount of talent on the part of the contractors and architects in Falmouth. The level of craftsmanship is amazing — cabinetry, lighting, everything. They make living spaces special, even in small houses. During this recession, the quality is still there, and the bar is set even higher.”