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Sawmill City Bronson Also Had Status as Rail Terminus

W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, November 12, 2003, p. A10.

Bronson, a Sabine County town about 14 miles north of Brookeland and 10 miles south of San Augustine, was founded in 1902, and for a brief time it was the northern terminus of the Gulf, Beaumont and Kansas City Railroad.

The first lot of the 200-acre townsite was sold on July 4, 1902 in the new community named for Samuel Bronson Cooper, the U.S. representative from Southeast Texas. Kirby Lumber Company soon sold the railway to Santa Fe, and it became the Gulf, Beaumont and Great Northern line. 

After the rails reached Bronson, Kirby bought up 45,000 acres of old-growth timber, with intent to build a sawmill. Kirby and Santa Fe signed a contract for Kirby to supply all crossties as well as depot, trestle and bridge timbers as the rails were extended north to Longview.

In 1902 Kirby built a 65,000-foot circular mill, but no dry kiln or planing mill was needed at first since all timbers were sold rough to the railroad. On Sept. 27, 1904, just as the railroad was completed, the sawmill burned.

Also in 1902, the Bronson Bulletin, a weekly newspaper, began publishing. W. A. Fields was the new postmaster; Hamilton-Pratt, Dean Mercantile and Toole Mercantile were the new merchants in town. The Kirby Boarding House, the Hancock and McDaniel Hotels opened to the public, and Drs. R. Cousins and F. Fonville were the new physicians in town. Bronson Bank was founded in 1907, and by 1910 Bronsonís population totaled 1,000 people.

By April 15, 1905, the new Bronson sawmill (Mill P in the Kirby alphabet soup) was cutting, with a new single bandsaw as well as a 72-inch circular saw for timbers. A planing mill processed 75,000 feet daily and a new dry kiln was in use. A six-mile tram road ran in the direction of Hemphill.

Bronson became a rail junction when the Lufkin, Hemphill and Gulf rails, chartered in 1912, were completed. New sidetracks had to be built, for the daily train from East Mayfield and Hemphill brought in many boxcars of lumber for transshipment. The latter railroad operated until about 1936.

The Bronson mill men included J. W. Lewis, superintendent; J. J. Butler, bookkeeper; J.C. Cowart, mill foreman; W.F. Purdy, planer foreman; J.J. Harrell, woods foreman; A. F. Scott, shipping clerk; G. S. Bostick, filer; A. H. Cobb, sawyer; E. B. Pratt, mill engineer; D. W. Wiggins, steel gang foreman and J. H. Mantooth, commissary manager.

Bronsonís Mill P burned for a second time on Sept. 21, 1915, but it was soon rebuilt, the same as previously, at a cost of $75,000. In 1918 the Bronson mill cut 14,000,000 feet of lumber. Since it employed 346 mill hands and loggers and paid an annual total of $201,000 in wages, Mill P was considered one of the least profitable of the Kirby plants. On March 14, 1927, the Bronson mill burned for the third and last time; and since all marketable timber nearby was already cut, the mill was not rebuilt.

Bronson was incorporated in 1915, and its school district, founded in 1905, was combined with the Pineland District in 1962. Since World War II, Bronsonís fortunes have continued to regress, and its present population is believed to be about 300 people.

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