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Susquehanna Life

Where the Past Meets the Future: Business Life

Mar 16, 2021 08:25PM ● By Stephanie Phillips-Taggart

Nestled beside Muncy Creek, just off Route 220, sits a brick building adorned with colorful murals that catch the eye of those who pass through the tiny village of Picture Rocks. Considered a local landmark, the structure is a symbol of the area’s deep roots in the lumber industry.

Shortly after Lewis Lumber Products relocated to Picture Rocks in 1996, Keith Atherholt, president, and Marc and Mel Lewis, co-owners, celebrated the region’s history by commissioning Williamsport-based artist Michael Pilato to paint vivid murals depicting four prominent figures from the region’s past.

The murals at the top of the building capture Louis Gansell, a local carver who is known for artistic work at Rowan University, and John Wesley Little, a renowned Pennsylvania artist who grew up in Sullivan County and resided in Picture Rocks. The mural over The Hardwood Store’s entrance depicts Dwight Lewis, a World War II Navy Veteran and namesake of Dwight Lewis Lumber Company. The last mural showcases Amos Burrow, who was instrumental in establishing Picture Rocks and pioneering a furniture company in his name.  

Since the mid-1800s the property has housed a myriad of wood-related entities, noted Atherholt. “This building represents rural America. There is a sense of history here.”

The way we were

Matt Stackhouse, a local historian and active member of the East Lycoming Historical Society, calls the wood products industry “a lifeline for the area. The importance of wood and lumber products and Picture Rocks go hand in hand,” he says.

In fact, the history of the building dates back to the 1800s when Amos Burrow founded his furniture company, Burrows Bros. Ltd.  In 1938, the company changed hands and became H&E Manufacturing Co., which made handles and excelsior (wood filler and packaging). H&E was operational until the early 1980s when the property was sold to Pennsylvania Hardwoods, which manufactured moldings. Pennsylvania Custom Millwork, a woodworking company, operated at the site from 1990 to 1995. In 1996 Lewis Lumber Products, a manufacturer of fine hardwood and softwood, custom architectural moldings, flooring, paneling and decking, relocated there from Williamsport.

As a go-to location for hobbyists, woodworkers, homeowners and contractors, The Hardwood Store of PA, at Lewis Lumber Products, offers 24 domestic species of hardwood and 10 exotic species. It can replicate moldings for restorations; craft custom, unfinished, hardwood flooring; and custom order plywood.  Additionally, it offers stair parts and a large assortment of live edge slabs.

Jason Lutz has been with Lewis Lumber Products for 14 years and has studied horticulture, silviculture* and forestry. “Because of my background, I look at the products in a different way,” he says.  His knowledge guides customers through the ins and outs of their projects.

*Silviculture is the practice of controlling the growth, composition/structure and quality of forests to meet values and needs, specifically timber production.

Why wood?

Recent research conducted by the Real American Hardwood Coalition revealed that consumers purchase hardwood products for several reasons—including appearance, durability, value and healthy-home benefits. However, the most important factor may be that wood products are renewable. These factors account for the continued vitality of the wood products industry.

Lewis Lumber Products obtains raw materials from renewable suppliers and sources much of its domestic timber from sister company, Dwight Lewis Lumber. The company’s practice of harvesting timber from sustainably managed Forest Steward Council Certified forests aligns with consumer demand for products that are environmentally conscious and recognize the importance of protecting forests for future generations.

“Forests are an important natural resource. When managed properly, they provide clean air, clean water, diverse wildlife habitat and recreational amenities,” says Atherholt.

Many lifecycle studies reveal that wood products sequester carbon or are carbon neutral—indicating that wood plays a significant role in reducing air pollution. Wood is often a preferred building choice over metal, concrete, plastic and glass. Additionally, according to Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Hardwood Development Council, the wood products industry currently employs more than 65,000 Pennsylvanians, which represents approximately 10 percent of the state’s manufacturing workforce. 

Another angle

Many wood products manufacturers could simply discard wood waste. But some manufacturers, like Lewis Lumber Products, waste nothing. Lewis Lumber maintains an extensive sawdust collection system and even donates animal bedding to the county fair, which underscores another environmental benefit of wood.

Keith Fry, a third-generation dairy farmer, uses Lewis Lumber Products’ wood waste—primarily in the form of sawdust and wood shavings—for animal bedding. Kiln-dried wood shavings absorb water and moisture—ultimately helping animals stay cleaner, warmer and dryer.

“Sawdust and shavings do not mean a whole lot to a lot of people, but it means a lot to our farm and to our environment,” says Fry. “And when you spread [wood shavings] out in a field and it mixes with cow manure, it breaks down and adds valuable nutrients to the soil. From the tree right down the line, sawdust becomes beneficial to the environment.”

Community partner

As a good corporate citizen, Lewis Lumber Products’ philanthropy takes many forms, including participation in the program, “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing.” This initiative of the Manufacturers Resource Center in Allentown, PA, promotes awareness of advanced manufacturing careers for students, adult family members, and educators across the commonwealth. 

The company also shutters operations on Manufacturing Day, held annually on the first Friday in October, when thousands of companies and educational institutions around the nation open their doors to students, parents, teachers and community leaders to depict the reality of modern manufacturing careers.  

The lumber industry still flourishes in northeast Pennsylvania, with many companies like Lewis Lumber Products operating under voluntary sustainability initiatives that revitalize our forests, rather than ravage them—a critical component of preserving the industry and the environment for the future. 

“When you really think about it, the [wood] industry enhances our lives in so many ways,” says Harry Jones, general manager, Lewis Lumber Products. ““A big part of our environmental philosophy is forest stewardship. Not only is it socially responsible, but it is in our long-term best interest.  We want to conserve our forests for future generations.”

Stephanie Phillips-Taggart is a freelance writer specializing in the wood products industry.

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