Did you know that there's a sawmill just 5 minutes from Annapolis?
Updated: May 23, 2022
Meet the 4th Generation of the Garman family to be in the lumber business
Chris, Nick, and T.J.
The Garman name and lumber have been synonymous for over half a century. Four generations in and they’re still going at it, log after log, board after board. It started all the way back in 1917, with Gary Garman’s grandfather running a mobile sawmill. Using a steam engine, back in those days it was easier to move the mill instead of the logs.
After World War II, Garman Brothers Inc.’s current location was established in December 1945 by his father and uncle, and his grandfather eventually also worked there. At that time, Gary’s grandfather had already been running Royal Lumber Company in Glen Burnie for years, and his grandfather’s brother continued to keep Royal running when Garman Brothers started up.
Back when his dad and uncle began Garman Brothers, they were just kids when they started and straight out of the Army. Gary’s grandfather had been established with a big trucking business started in the 1930s with 15 trucks on the road, which definitely helped Garman Brothers out in the beginning with a network of contacts.
His grandfather had to work hard to find a way of living during the Great Depression era just to survive and reinvented himself through that struggle, bringing a ton of knowledge to the logging and sawmill world. When his father and uncle opened Garman Brothers in Crownsville, they stood the business up with just $1,600 between the two of them — now a loader tire can cost twice that much.
76 years later, Gary Garman and his 3 sons, Chris, Nick and TJ, keep the mill running, preserving the family business and timber tradition his grandfather and father got off the ground. Nowadays, they cut mostly industrial lumber and a lot of what’s known as lagging, which are timber beams that stabilize soil in up to 6-story deep excavations for building foundations. Other forestry products include pallet wood as well as crane mat timbers that are used to allow for environmentally safe operation of heavy machinery in sensitive areas for projects like large-scale stream restoration
A majority of Garman lumber goes to D.C. and Northern Virginia, but through a broker their product does go all over the East Coast, going as far as Tampa, Florida, or even out to Kansas. One large and well-known customer of Garman’s recently was Jack Daniels, who used the mill’s white oak harvest for making whiskey barrels, a market that Garman says has gone through the roof.
Byproduct markets include wood chips going to Pixelle, a paper company in PA who’ve been in business for almost 170 years. Garman sawdust winds up being put to use at horse farms for bedding in the stalls. A couple customers even use the sawdust for oil clean-up operations, where the sawdust can absorb the oil so it can be removed from the ground. Low-grade logs that aren’t any good or hollow in the middle are converted to firewood by Garman, making sure to make use and not waste any of the natural resources and forestry products they harvest.
A staff of 12 is what Garman has on site, including drivers. 10,000 to 12,000 board feet a day is cut at Garman Brothers despite limited electricity supply and often inconsistent labor supply. Keeping workers and keeping up with regulations are the two biggest challenges a sawmill like Garman faces currently. “Between truck safety regs, insurance mandates, it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything,” he says.
Beyond the 5-acre sawmill site is a 100+ acre forest that filters a lot of incoming water from surrounding developments. Not only does Garman harvest and manage the land in a responsible, regenerative way with his timber business, but he also has partnered with Scenic Rivers to keep the surrounding woodland buffer as a natural filter in the face of continually increasing development in the county. The land will fall under the Open Space program through MD Department of Natural Resources and will be conserved, with only limited, selective cuts when needed to regenerate the landscape, keeping the low, wet forest as a living sponge and buffer.
When talking about the day to day operations at the sawmill, Garman points to his sons and all that they do to keep everything going smooth. All 3 boys went to college but ended up back among the timber and trees. With all that one needs to know to run a mill, far beyond just log dimensions, Garman says, “It’s almost like farming — you have to be born with it.” Four generations in and still going, overseeing a successful sawmill is something the Garman family was definitely born with.
Photo Credit: EDWIN REMSBERG PHOTOGRAPHS
Project Support: RURAL MARYLAND COUNCIL
LINKS TO LEARN MORE:
Garman Brothers, Inc.
Maryland's Forests- Great for the Environment and the Economy
Maryland's Forestry Industry StoryMap