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  • Writer's pictureAaron Ruby

Long Lost Longleaf Yellow Pine

For some reason I cannot explain, I have a fascination with “what came before” over and above any innate desire to contemplate the future and “what is possible”. Some might say that is completely backwards for an architect. But I know I am not the only one that has a passion for historic buildings and in seeing us keep the best of our architecture—so maybe some of you readers will understand.  While I contemplate buildings all around me, perched high above downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, I am thinking of what was here before it changed so much, before it was settled—then my mind wanders to visions of forests of longleaf yellow pine as far as the eye can see.

As recently as the middle of 19th century, most of this country was still fairly wild and untamed-- the enormous numbers of immigrants flooding into the United States would push the tide of settlers moving westward—and they would build. At their disposal were seemingly endless resources—and one resource in particular, the long leaf pine (Pinus Palustris Mill.), was extraordinary. Tall, straight, strong, rot-resistant, giant trees growing for centuries was a wood species unmatched by any other in the world for building purposes—and the pine forests that covered the southeastern United States were endless—stretching from the Carolinas to eastern Texas.  Already well known by the 19th century to the turpentine industry and ship manufacturing, long leaf pine was in very, very high demand.  The Industrial Revolution, railroads and unchecked capitalism would eventually devastate the long leaf forests and their ecosystem. Today, long leaf pine is virtually extinct.

But—there’s good news! Besides learning the moral lesson in proper stewardship of resources, we would also do well to understand that long leaf pine is still in use today in some of our buildings—heck, it is the reason in some cases why those buildings are still standing!  For architects that love to restore or rehabilitate older buildings, long leaf pine is one reason why we like to say “it has good bones”. I am really excited about an upcoming opportunity to talk more about long leaf yellow pine at the Traditional Building Conference in Brooklyn, NY, Dec 6-7th and in particular how we put reclaimed long leaf pine to good use on a reconstruction project in downtown Little Rock. If you’re interested in learning more—and in seeing the wonderful sights of New York City at the same time, consider registering. You can learn more at

Oh, and by the way, those large stone towers you see holding up the Brooklyn Bridge—yeah, holding them up are caissons built from long leaf yellow pine.

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