This page is based on an article written by John E. Rice that appeared in a lumber trade magazine in 1966.
In the year 1889, Joseph Rice and two of his sons, G.C. and N.A. Rice, formed a partnership under the firm name of “Lodi Lumber Company.” That is the name under which the company operates today. However, this business of converting trees into lumber, and its allied products, has been sort of a tradition in the Rice family for several generations, and in order to appreciate the rather unique manner in which this family has followed this vocation these many years, this brief family history has been written.
The founder of the family in America was Barnhart Rice, a German boy, who settled near Bethlehem, Pa., in the early part of the 18th century. His son Frederick Rice was born in 1753, and after serving four years in the Revolutionary War, was married and took his place in the pioneer community by setting up himself in the grist mill business. This profession he followed until he came to Ohio in 1821, purchasing several hundred acres of land just south of the State of Ohio and is now occupied by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Two houses, one brick and one stone, were built by Frederick Rice and his son Barnhart, and they are still in use.
Like his father, Barnhart Rice took up the milling business and eventually passed it on to his son, Philip Rice. Philip left the ancestral acres a few years later and settled on the banks of the Black River, about five miles northwest of Lodi. Here he built a large dam about the year 1836 and at once began the construction of a sawmill. It was an old “up and down” mill and while not very swift when compared to modern methods, it did saw lumber, and many beautiful walnut plank went out from the old mill. Some of it was hauled by team all the way to the rising city of Cleveland, a distance of at least forty miles, over dirt roads.
Philip Rice was also a miler and after his son, John Rice, became old enough to help in sawmilling and grinding grain, using power generated by the friendly Black River. They not only built their own mills but also constructed their own water wheels. A water wheel, built by John Rice many years ago, is still being used today. His son, C.S. Rice, at the age of 95, still ground corn with the stone burr his father used. His meal was famous locally for its flavor and texture. People came from distant cities or sent orders by mail, just to get a sack of his corn meal for pancake flour.
John Rice continued to operate the mills on the Black River, assisted first by his oldest son, Joseph Rice, and eventually by his other son, C.S. Rice, the kindly old gentleman who lived on the homestead until his death at 99.
Joseph Rice came to Lodi in 1889 where he purchased a rundown planing mill. He added a circular sawmill and soon was joined by his brother, C.S. Rice. The father remained at the old homestead. The two Rice boys soon had “a thriving” business. They cut their own timber, sawed and manufactured it into building material in their planning mill and then contracted with individuals for the construction of homes and out buildings. Many fine old homes in the present village of Lodi were built by the Rice brothers at this time.
The new company suffered a severe reverse when the mill burned down a few years later. The brothers borrowed all the money they could and rebuilt on the same location what was probably the largest sawmill ever to operate in this section of the country. It was a completely modern 8-foot band mill and was the finest of its day. Things were just getting started nicely when the panic of 1893 struck.
These were tough years and the boys lost the mill to their creditors, but by 1904 Joseph Rice was able to purchase for $400 a saw mill and large wooden building, which at one time had been a furniture factory, located on the east branch of the Black River in the village of Lodi. With some additional financial backing, he continued to operated a sawmill and conducted both a retail and wholesale hardwood business.
In 1911, his two oldest sons, G.C and N.A Rice, having completed their education and having saved a little money, followed the Rice tradition. They put their savings with the business and the partnership (mentioned at the top of this article) was formed. The firm name “Lodi Lumber Company” continues today.
The new firm prospered and continued to grow, but again a disastrous fire destroyed the entire plant. The father and sons secured a new location on a spur of the B&O Railroad and promptly rebuilt a larger and better mill. This mill, with considerable addition in size, is still operating. The father, Joseph, was killed in 1916 at the time he was beginning to feel a degree of financial independence.
In 1920, this writer, having been discharged from the army where he served in World War I, followed the family tradition and entered the firm. The new partnership continued to operate as the Lodi Lumber Company, and about the time the younger brother joined up, a retail softwood yard was added by purchasing the Knapp and Sanford Lumber Company of Lodi.
From 1911 to the present time, the company has continued to operate a general hardwood lumber and millwork business, together with their retail lumber and building material yard. From time to time considerable woodworking machinery has been added, together with modern dry kilns. The company has specialized in industrial millwork, and various wood specialties have been made for a number of large industrial concerns. During the World War II nearly all of the facilities of the plant were given over to war production, the largest item being bent wooden supports used on the inside of self-sealing gas tanks in our fighter bomber planes, including the famous B-29 and the Hell Divers.
Eight Generations of Rice Millmen
- Barnhart Rice
- Frederick Rice
- Philip Rice
- John Rice
- Joseph Rice
- Grover “G.C.” Rice
- Phillip Rice
- Jim Rice