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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

People

Fall of the Largest Tree

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
The largest tree in the forest fell last month.

The passing of Arthur Temple -- the man some newspapers called the last of the East Texas timber barons -- ended a link with a history reaching back more than a century.

But to call Temple a timber baron is not really appropriate.

While he and his family shaped an empire in the era of barons John Henry Kirby, Ernest L. Kurth and W.T. Carter, Temple was different in his philosophy and business practices.

The best example is the town of Diboll.

When Arthur Temple came to Diboll in the late l940s to run Southern Pine Lumber Company, inherited from his father and grandfather, the community was a small sawmill town in the fashion of Kirby's Bessmay, Kurth's Keltys and Carter's Camden.

But in the ensuing years, Temple helped Dibollians shape their town into one of the most progressive small towns in Texas while other sawmill towns withered from the loss of their sawmills.

One of Temple's first steps was sell at bargain prices hundreds of company houses to his employees, creating a pride of ownership among Dibollians.

He also closed Southern Pine's commissary store -- the grocer, clothier, druggist and hardware dealer to Dibollians. Proprietorships soon blossomed like daisies.

School buildings built by Southern Pine were replaced with modern buildings funded by a bond issue and the schools were among the first to be integrated in Texas.

Diboll was incorporated and a city council was elected to run the town. A new library and other community institutions were established and, in time, Diboll even built a golf course and a civic center -- both rarities for small towns.

A similar metamorphosis took place at Pineland, another one-time company town owned by Southern Pine.

While Temple built a timber empire that reached across America, he was always quick to give the credit for his successes to the men and women who worked in his plants. "They're out there doing the hard work," he once told an interviewer.

Temple's benevolence was legend. He gave large sums of money to Alzhiemer's disease research, cancer treatments, colleges, libraries, youth groups and other worthwhile causes.

But quieter causes touched his heart, too. He was often moved to tears by the plight of a poor family or a child with a debilitating disease.

Few men loved the forests of East Texas as much as Temple. When other timber companies implemented clearcutting in the 1960s, he abhorred the practice. "If you take care of the trees, they'll take care of you," he said.

Temple also retained his fervency for the land which grew the trees, keeping alive the traditions of his grandfather, Thomas Lewis Latane Temple, who came to Angelina County in the 1890s and purchased from J.C. Diboll the lands along the Neches River which would become the nucleus of Southern Pine, Diboll and Temple-Inland.

When a Beaumont river authority revived the decades-old idea of building a new lake and dam on the Neches River -- the last and longest wild river stretch in East Texas -- Temple helped establish a conservation area along the river.

In the end, Temple remained close to the land and the river.

He was lain to rest in a small, hillside family cemetery shaded by tall pines overlooking the river that has always been a part of his family's legacy.
All Things Historical
May 1, 2006 Column
Published with permission

(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a past president of the Association and the author of more than 30 books about East Texas.)
 
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