Village Mills Hangs Tough after Heyday
W. T. Block
Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, January 12, 2005, p. A12.
Village Mills, on U.S. 69 in north Hardin County, is technically not a ghost town. While still retaining its post office and a sizable rural population, it is only a shadow of what it once was in the days of “King Lumber.”
Village Mills began in November-December 1881 after rails of the East Texas Railroad crossed Village Creek. The Galveston Weekly News of Dec. 5, 1881 recorded that:
Long Manufacturing Co. of Beaumont bought 40,000 acres of nearby timber and built a sawmill there. In 1883 it became the property of Texas Tram and Lumber Co. of Beaumont, with William A. Fletcher as majority stockholder. Another Beaumonter, J. Frank Keith, was mill superintendent there for the next eight years.
By 1889 the sawmill at Village Mills was cutting 75,000 feet daily, and along with its extensive planing mill and dry kilns, shipped 147 boxcars of lumber in June. The mill had nine miles of tram road, over which one locomotive and 16 tram cars hauled logs.
Village Mills actually consisted of two towns at its beginning, Long Station, where the mill facilities were; and Village Mills, one mile distant, where most of the mill families resided. By 1889 the town had a commissary, depot, dispensary, a two-story hotel, boarding house, churches and schools, 110 tenant houses and a public hall of the Order of Chosen Friends.
By 1890 Village Mills had a population of 800. From its beginning Fletcher allowed no saloon on company property, and after the mill was sold to John H. Kirby in 1902, that “dry” policy continued.
In 1890 the sawmill won the “buffalo horns” of the Henry Disston Saw Co. for cutting 115,000 feet of lumber in 10 hours on a single circular saw. In 1895 the mill won a second set of “buffalo horns” from Disston for a new world record of cutting 254,000 feet of lumber in 11 hours. The cut was mostly long 12-inch square trestle timbers for a railroad.
Also in 1890, the sawmill bought a McGiffert log loader, but from the beginning, Fletcher was dissatisfied because the loader required two sets of tracks to load a log car. Fletcher began building a log loader of his own design in the Village Mills machine shop, and in 1895 he patented the Fletcher log loader and skidder, which needed only one set of tracks to load logs. The machine also had two large winches, each with 1,200 feet of cable, for skidding logs from the woods to the tracks.
In 1902 the Village Mills facility became Mill L in the Kirby Lumber Co. alphabet soup of sawmills, and B. H. Rice became the new mill manager. The mill was soon enlarged to 100,000 feet daily capacity, and in 1907 cut 17 million feet of lumber. In 1904 there were 150 students enrolled in the Village Mills school, and Kirby Lumber encouraged its employees to engage in farming and raising stock on its cutover lands.
Village Mills prospered until 1930, when lumber demand plummeted because of the Great Depression, and most of the timber was already cut out. Sawmilling ceased in 1931 and the mill plant was dismantled in 1933. In 1938 the post office was removed to Long Station, but it retained its Village Mills name. And thus Village Mills became the ghost town that refused to die.