The South Eastern Lumber Company was originally chartered as the South Eastern Railroad and Lumber Company by Neill G. Wade and A. L. Jones. Wade and Jones met while Jones was operating a lumber mill in Buie, NC, near Philadelphus. Wade was widely known as a timber man, operating three saw mills as well as a large farming operation. Jones operated a general saw mill in Buie and also one in Purvis which produced railroad cross ties.
Wade and Jones were approached in early 1897 by Dr. John P. Brown, a surgeon for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Ashpole resident. Brown's longstanding desire was to secure a railroad line to run through Ashpole and improve the economic circumstances of the area. By August, 1897, a survey had been done of the undeveloped right-of-way owned by the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad and work had begun to clear the right-of-way and build the road bed.
The construction work was done with prison labor contracted from the N. C. Department of Prisons. The right-of-way was leased by the South Eastern Rail Road and Lumber Company for an unknown duration. The first segment, Elrod (on the main line) to Ashpole, a distance of eleven miles, was completed in December, 1898 in time to make a shipment of lumber before the end of the year. That shipment yielded $588.44 in revenue, according to the 1898 annual report of the NC Board of Railroad Commissioners. The cost to build that segment was $123,800, also in the report.
At this point Wade became president of the railroad and also of the lumber company. Jones was named superintendent of the railroad and manager of the lumber mill. Wade also made plans to complete the nine-mile segment from Ashpole to Hub (Boardman) in Columbus County. Right-of-way construction began in July, 1899 with an expected completion date of December, 1899. The line was completed and placed into operation in June, 1900.
The physical location of the lumber mill is unknown but suspected to be in the Trinity Street area adjacent to the railroad. Tax records are inconclusive on this point. It was split from the railroad and named South Eastern Lumber Company by Wade and Jones, who continued to jointly own the lumber company until 1903 when they began negotiating to sell the company. Wade purchased Jones' interests and in 1904 sole the operation to J. Danforth Bush and Robert C. Rayner of Wilmington, DE. They continued to operate the mill until 1909 when it was acquired by the Beaufort County Lumber Company, a division of Jackson Brothers Lumber Company of Salisbury, MD, in 1909.