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Fuqua Hummed As Sawmill Town in Early 1900s

W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, July 10, 2004, p. A12.

Fuqua, a sawmill ghost town in Liberty County between Rye and Votaw, once thrived with the buzz and whirl of band saws. It was founded in 1901 as Menard by the Hackney brothers of Polk County, who built a 50,000-foot capacity, double-circular sawmill there.

In 1902 the Kirby Lumber Co. bought the Menard sawmill property and immediately changed the town’s name to Fuqua, after Will L. Fuqua, the lumber company’s chief accountant. John H. Kirby wanted the Hackney sawmill because it owned 10,000 acres of virgin long leaf timber, plus several thousand acres of short leaf pine in Hardin and Polk counties.

Kirby immediately added an Allis band saw and a 36-gang saw, powered by a 300-horsepower steam engine, to increase the mill’s capacity to 100,000 feet daily. The planing mill at Fuqua, powered by a 150-horsepower engine, had six molders and matchers, a fence picket machine and nine other saws and processing machines, giving it a daily capacity of 100,000 feet. The kilns could steam-dry 50,000 feet daily.

Much of Fuqua’s timber lay within the low-lying Trinity River flood plain, where heavy rains oftentimes shut down logging entirely; hence the loggers always sought to build up a large surplus of logs at the mill pond. In 1911 the mill owned two locomotives, two switch engines, and 35 log cars, and usually from 100 to 125 loggers were employed. At one time the tram road extended 12 miles into Hardin County to a point between Votaw and Bragg.

Kirby Lumber Co. transferred its key employees often, which was why two or more employees filled the same position over a span of years to 1910, as follows: superintendent, B.A. Rice, R.J. Hughes, A. J. Sloan, R. B. Loveland; mill foreman, Forrest Weaver, C. E. Parry, A. J. Grimaldi; shipping clerk, J. H. Jones, J. E. Dodd; planer foreman, E. Redding, J. L. Rudd; band sawyer, J. Blanton, Ed Fayette; gang sawyer, C. W. Kellogg; locomotive engineer, N. T. Gallimore, J. E. Lyons, J. G. Irons; dry kiln foreman, B.A. Jenkins, L. O. Dunlap; saw filer, Edgar Hyde, L. Thornburg; bookkeeper, J. L. Langston; and mill physicians, Drs. H. C. Cunningham, J. L. Mann.

In 1902 Fuqua’s population was about 400, consisting of 125 mill hands and loggers living in 80 tenant houses. In 1905 its population was about 800; and in 1910, 1,000 people lived there, of whom 300 were mill hands and loggers living in 225 tenant houses.

Fuqua had a full complement of company buildings, including office, depot, commissary, dispensary, barber shop, meat market, church and school for each race, and a community house, where Woodmen of the World, Masons and Pythians met. Both Methodist and Baptist circuit riders preached there. The center of community life was the large commissary under W. E. Stegall. Kirby mill checks were spent there, and each mill hand paid $1.50 monthly for family health care.

In 1905 Fuqua’s annual capacity was 25,000,000 feet of lumber, but by 1909 the mill cut only 16,000,000 feet, and by 1918 12,000,000 feet. Its 1918 payroll was $168,000 for 309 employees, making Fuqua one of Kirby’s most expensive mills to operate and causing the plant to close.

Much of Fuqua’s machinery was destined for the company’s new mill at Honey Island. Kirby began dismantling Fuqua in 1923; and by 1925 the post office was also discontinued as the mill site joined sawmill ghost towns scattered over East Texas.

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