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Lumber Town of Manning Once Prospered

W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, April 7, 2004, p. A10.

The ghost town of Manning was located in the Brushy and Shawnee Creek areas of southern Angelina County near the Neches River. The history of the Carter-Kelley Lumber Co., of that town has partly survived because when a fire burned down the mill, an English teacher gave each of her students an assignment to write an essay about their town. In 1985 R. L. Poland collected all the essays, which were published into the booklet “Were You at Manning?”

Manning was founded in 1906 by two senior East Texas lumbermen, W. T. Carter of Camden and George A. Kelley of Lufkin. As soon as Carter began sawmilling at Camden in 1898, he also began buying sections of timberland in southern Angelina County. In 1905, when Lufkin Land and Lumber Co., was sold to Frost Lumber Co., Kelley, as a founding partner, received $200,000 in cash that he needed to reinvest.

Kelley was a unique person. He grew up in Milwaukee’s E. P. Allis Co., a sawmill manufacturer, and he was the best sawmill machinist ever to reach Texas. He held patents on the steam log turner and steam log kicker, and in 1897 the Allis Company sent him to East Texas to sell and install sawmills.

The first small sawmill at Manning was a circular one left over when the Carter mill at Camden was enlarged. It was used to cut lumber for the new Carter-Kelley sawmill and crossties for the 14-mile tram road to Huntington, chartered as the Houston, Shreveport and Gulf Railroad.

The next sawmill in 1907 was an Allis double-circular mill, which could cut 90,000 feet daily. That mill burned on March 25, 1916 and was soon replaced by a double bandsaw headrig and an Allis gang saw. There was also a large planing mill and dry kiln that could process 125,000 feet daily. The powerhouse was one of the largest in East Texas, utilizing eight boilers and a 900-horsepower steam engine.

Manning was divided into three quarters, one for whites, one for blacks and one for Mexican and immigrant Italian laborers. By 1920, the town’s population was about 1,500, second only to Lufkin’s 6,000. About 500 employees were housed in 200 tenant houses, about 300 of them being millhands, and 200 being “flatheads” (loggers) in the forests. For a while, the company used steam skidders, but finally abandoned them because of damage rendered to young seedlings. The tram road consisted of six locomotives, about 50 log cars, and a roundhouse.

One locomotive pulled a train on a round trip to Huntington daily, pulling a passenger car and outgoing cars of lumber and returning empty. The superb machine shop employed six machinists and three millwrights to maintain the locomotives, log loader and cars, and all machinery.

Carter died in 1921, and Kelley sold out to Carter’s son Aubrey in 1926. There was a Manning Country Club, several fraternal orders, schools and churches, and two doctors practiced there until the town disintegrated. In 1936 the mill burned again, sealing the town’s fate, since all the surrounding timber was exhausted. W. M. Gibbs, the last mill superintendent, sold his home and 1,200 acres of land to M. M. Flournoy, the last school superintendent, who decided to become a farmer.

The entire burned out mill machinery was sold as scrap iron to a Beaumont firm. It was later loaded on a Japanese ship, to be made into shells and torpedoes to be fired back at Americans a few years later.

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