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In 1880, the Augustus Kountze banking interests of New York, Denver, and Sabine Pass, who owned the Sabine and East Texas Railroad from Beaumont to Sabine Pass, announced their intent to complete the railroad to Rockland, Texas, a decision that would enable the Kountze Brothers to market their 250,000 acres of virgin timber lands in nearby counties. Both Olive and Sternenberg began considering the building of a new sawmill in Hardin County, an area where a thousand square miles of virgin saw logs, most of them between three and five feet in diameter, would be available. Logging via their own narrow-gauge tram railway would alleviate the seasonal shortages of saw logs, which the Centennial mill endured in Beaumont. They hoped that the Kountze Brothers, with almost unlimited capital to invest, could break the stranglehold of the box car shortages, once their railroad was completed. However, as soon as Olive and Sternenberg began planning their new Hardin County sawmill, the Kountze interests sold out their railroad, its new right-of-way through “the pineries,” and its rolling stock to the Texas and New Orleans Railroad, which for so long had failed to supply the mill men with enough rail cars. As a result, the proprietors made no attempt to sell or dismantle the Centennial mill until such time as they could determine for certain how profitable the new Hardin County mill would be. In fact, they continued to improve and enlarge the Centennial mill at Beaumont during all of the year 1881.

Even after the completion of the railroad bridge over Pine Island Bayou and the first rails entered Hardin County in January, 1881,11 Olive and Sternenberg were already planning the building of their new Sunset Sawmill and the new Hardin County mill town it would spawn. At first, they enlarged their partnership, granting a one-third interest to A. B. Doucette, a well-known Village Creek logging contractor, who years later, would lend his surname to another mill town in Tyler County. By 1882, the original proprietors released Doucette from the agreement, presumably at his request, and bought back his interest for $5,600.12

In March, 1881, their Hardin County plans were set back somewhat by a fire that seemed so prophetic of conflagrations of the future, described as follows:

The shed of the [Beaumont’s] Centennial Sawmill caught fire… Wednesday, but by the exertions of the employees of that mill, what might have been a flaming inferno was averted…13

11Ibid., January 15, 1881.

12Volume K, p. 30, Hardin County, Texas Deed Records.

13Beaumont Enterprise, March 12, 1881; Galveston Daily News, March 10, 1881.

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