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Olive, Hardin County, Texas

An Extinct Sawmill Town and the Olive-Sternenberg Partnership That Built It

By W. T. Block

The writer acknowledges with gratitude the help of Mr. Clyde See, Chairman, Hardin County Historical Commission.

Three miles north of Kountze, in Hardin County, Texas, where once the burly and towering pine trees shaded the forest floors beneath them, the town of Olive thrived between 1881 and 1912. It took its name from Sidney C. Olive of Waco, who was one-half of the partnership of Olive, Sternenberg and Company, the owners of the large Sunset Sawmill, which spawned the community. And everywhere in town could be heard the shrill blasts of the steam whistles, the whir and shotgun exhaust of the steam-driven log carriage, the whine of the circular and gang saws, and the screech of the big band saw, sure indications that mechanization and industry had finally reached “the land of the pineys.”

In 1876, while Beaumont was celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the United States, the same owners built the Centennial Sawmill on Brake’s Bayou, Beaumont’s first large lumber mill, and operated it until 1883.

By 1915, the town of Olive, where once some 1,200 people lived and prospered, had disappeared, having shared the same fate as a hundred other early East Texas sawmill towns, all of which died when the timber was cut out and the mill and housing were moved away. Soon, only “cutover” stump lands scarred the areas surrounding it, and today, its site having returned to forest, only the abandoned and thicket-covered Olive Cemetery remains to bear mute testimony to the town’s erstwhile existence. Likewise, all knowledge of the town of Olive has disappeared, except among a few peo­ple of very advanced years who may have been born there.

In 1875, John A. Sternenberg of Houston teamed up with Sid Olive of Waco to found the lumber firm, which was capitalized at $56,000. And although both men would maintain at various times residences at either Beaumont or Olive, they continued to own their permanent abodes elsewhere, Olive at Waco, where his retail lumber business was concentrated, and Sternenberg at Houston, where his other business interests were located.

In 1876, Olive, who was born in Tennessee in 1833, moved his wife Amerika and two children to Beaumont. Sternenberg, however, boarded at Beaumont’s old Telegraph Hotel, but visited his wife and four children in Houston whenever possible. J. A. Sternenberg, who was born in the German principality of Westphalia in 1837, immigrated to Texas in 1849, where he settled with his parents at New Ulm, Austin County, Texas.

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