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Evadale Makes Comeback From Near Ghost Town

W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, November 15, 2003, p. A12.

Evadale, in Jasper County where U.S. 96 crosses the Neches River, has a history dating back to 1835 when Benjamin Richardson received a Mexican land grant there. On Oct. 7, 1840 the editor of the Houston Telegraph observed that Richardson was postmaster under the Texas Republic of the settlement of Richardson Bluff (or Ferry).

In 1851 the location was purchased by John A., Philip U. and Charles T. Ford, brothers of Baltimore, MD, who renamed the site Ford’s Bluff. Philip Ford sailed to New Orleans, where he purchased a steam engine and sawmill, but he also contracted yellow fever and died three days after returning home. Although the Fords operated a sawmill there for a few months, they eventually sold out and returned to Baltimore.

During the 1880s, Beaumont sawmills owned huge tracts of timber in that area, and they operated two tram roads and skidways named the Yellow Bluff Tram Co. and Wiess Bluff Tram Co. They also owned the logging town of Buna. In 1894 they built a 10-mile logging railroad from Buna to Ford’s Bluff, where they also owned 20,000 acres of marketable timber. They planned to build a skidway there to skid logs into the Neches River.

In 1895 John H. Kirby bought the timberlands and the 10 miles of trackage, which he soon incorporated into his Gulf, Beaumont and Kansas City Railroad from Kirbyville to Beaumont.

In 1895 Kirby also built a cypress shingle mill at Ford’s Bluff, and he soon changed the name to Evadale, named for Ms. Eva Dale, a Jasper music teacher. The mill, which had a daily capacity of 150,000 shingles, operated until 1902, when Kirby converted it to a pine sawmill, because available cypress trees had been exhausted.

The only known history of the Evadale sawmill was published in The Enterprise of Aug. 3, 1927. The article noted that in 1902, A. L. Harris, the first telegrapher there, shunted an empty freight car to the end of a sidetrack, where he operated the town’s first telegraph station until a depot was built.

R. P. “Jack” Owens was sawmill superintendent there for most of the mill’s existence. The Evadale sawmill cut 60,000 feet daily on a double-circular saw.

In 1927 Evadale had an eight-mile tram road over which one locomotive and 10 tram cars hauled logs to the mill. Kirby owned 90 tenant houses, in which 75 mill hands and 60 loggers resided with their families. Most houses had electricity and running water, and the town’s social life hinged around the commissary, church and school.

Dolf Jones, a 70-year-old man who had been born a slave, was one of the most colorful figures in town. He had worked for Kirby for 30 years until age and an accident forced his retirement. Jones bragged that he had been Kirby’s first client whenever the latter set up his first law practice in Woodville. Jones had a thousand bear and panther yarns to tell and despite his age still coached the sawmill’s baseball team which won 18 of its 19 games in 1927.

Despite its 10-year supply of uncut timber, the Evadale sawmill closed in 1931 due to plummeting lumber demand and never reopened. Evadale’s population of 600 quickly dwindled to 100 people who lived there in 1950. However about 1952 the building of Temple-Inland’s paper mill there quickly breathed new life into the town, and Evadale promises to remain a vibrant community for generations of its citizens still unborn.

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