Many Sawmill Towns Died Out In East Texas
W. T. Block
Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, October 27, 2004, p. A12.
Liberty County has about as many sawmill ghost towns as either Hardin or Jasper counties. One of the most visible is Felicia, located on U.S. 90 at Farm Road 1009, 38 miles west of Beaumont, where only an abandoned rice elevator survives today. The Richard and Hauck Lumber Co., cut 10,000 feet of lumber daily at Felicia between 1906 and 1915. By 1916 Felicia had a population of 150 people, most of whom were occupied in rice farming. Also, Felicia had a post office from 1916 until 1921.
In 1880 the ghost town of Africa was located three miles south of Cleveland on the railroad to Houston. In 1883, its name was changed to Keno, when W. M. Cruse founded his Keno Lumber Co., there. Cruse also remained postmaster of Keno until the sawmilling period ended there in 1902.
Cruse owned only 9,000 acres of timber there, and for several years he cut only some of it in order not to deplete his reserve rapidly; by 1900 the Keno sawmill was cutting 40,000 feet daily. Also in 1900, the Keno Lumber Co., employed 63 millhands and loggers and had a population of 220 people enumerated in the census.
The mill also had three miles of tram road, one locomotive and 10 log cars. The Keno post office was discontinued in 1902. During the 1890s Keno and Devers were the only Liberty County sawmills cutting pine timber, all of the remainder cut hardwood.
In 1895 William and John Rollo founded the Rollo Brothers Lumber Co., one mile south of Keno. They owned an Allis single circular sawmill, which cut 30,000 feet of lumber daily; a planing mill, dry kilns, and four miles of tram road. The town had a church and a school, where Charles Howes taught 45 students. The Rollo sawmill cut out in 1905 and moved to Montgomery County.
In 1904, W. L. Mainer operated three small sawmills, one at Darst Mill, 5 miles south of Cleveland; and the others at Rayburn and LaSalle, east of Cleveland on the Santa Fe Railroad. In 1906 the Dayton Lumber Co., built the 10-mile Trinity Valley and Northern Railroad to Lamb on the Santa Fe, and there were several ghost towns along that route, including Fullerton, Fouts, Rosswood and Hightower (Lamb).
Rayburn became the focal point of several small sawmills, which later became ghost towns. The largest mill in that area was the Ranger Hardwood and Export Co., which cut 50,000 feet daily of oak and cottonwood, starting in 1903.
In May 1906, Ranger Hardwood went bankrupt, and was sold in chancery to a new firm, the Liberty Hardwood Lumber Co., chartered for $150,000 in 1907. The principal stockholder was Charles H. Moore, who was also the largest retail lumber dealer in Galveston. In 1918, the firm was sold to Kelburn Moore (son of C.H.) for $262,000. For 10 years the hardwood mill operated in conjunction with the big Miller-Vidor pine sawmill at Milvid, of which C.H. Moore was chairman of the board.
There were other ghost towns in north Liberty County, namely, Dolan, Rye, Romayor, Clark, Fuqua and Milvid.
A 1900 government figure estimated that there were still 2 billion feet of marketable timber standing in Liberty County—a billion feet of mostly shortleaf pine trees, and another billion feet of cypress and hardwood timber. Before 1914, many mills were cutting timber for the German Hardwood Furniture Syndicate, whereas other mills were making barrel staves for the European wine industry.