signposts up and down the Sabine River valley of East
Texas read like a roster of sawmills that once cut the great virgin pines
from the valley's verdant hills: Haslam, Fawil,
Logtown, Steep Creek, Trotti, Yellow Pine.|
These and a hundred more boom
towns prospered here in lumbering's golden era between the 1880s and 1920s.
But when the timber played out, the sawmills closed or moved on, leaving
behind cutover forests, clusters of clapboard buildings, and remnants of concrete
Some of the towns, however, overcame the loss and still cling
to life in the pineywoods, supported by a smaller sawmill or some other form of
One such survivor is Wiergate -- the one-time home
of Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company -- in northern Newton County.
grows over the ground where more than 550 homes once stood and bitterweeds cover
the site of the town's business district. But Wiergate, somehow, lives on as many
of the community's 300 or so residents still make their living from working in
The town's real tenacity, however, comes from a strong sense
of pride anchored in the days when living in Wiergate was a distinction among
East Texas sawmillers.
its height, the town of 2,500 was one of the most progressive of the old lumbering
era. Its sawmill was the largest in East
Texas (with an hourly capacity of 20,000 board feet) and its high-roofed commissary
store, the forerunner of today's department stores, stocked everything from pins
There were also schools, churches, a community center, a
movie theater, two swimming pools, two doctors, and other niceties seldom found
in sawmill settlements.
Wiergate was born in 1917 when brothers Bob and
Tom Wier built a sawmill on Little Cow Creek and surrounded it with a post office,
barber shop and doctor's office to serve the millhands. A year later, the Orange
and Northwestern Railroad ran a line from Newton
to ship out the Wier's lumber. The Wiers also worked a turpentine camp in the
virgin longleaf forests around Wiergate, collecting gum three years ahead of their
logging crews. The sawmill began gasping its last breaths in the 1940's when it
became apparent the Wiers' timber holdings -- which had not been replanted or
regenerated following harvest -- would not last long. On Christmas Day, 1942,
the mill's giant saws were stilled and Wiergate's people began to drift away.
But today many of the town's old residents wander back for occasional homecomings.
One of their steps is invariably the Wiergate Post Office, where a collection
of photographs from the town's past is displayed. Former Wiergaters linger for
hours over the photos, trying to pick out familiar faces and places.
A former postmaster, Doyle Smith, felt Wiergate's durability came from the close-knit
fraternity of its old sawmill families.
"There's something about Wiergate's
people you don't find in a lot of other places. I can't describe it. But I can
see it in the faces of the old-timers when they come back. They talk like they
left behind an awful big hunk of their lives."
And perhaps they did.
June 13 , 2004 Column
This column is provided as a public service by the East
Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman is a former president of the Association
and author of 30 books on East Texas.
old ferry cables can still be seen at Burr’s Ferry, which also crossed the Sabine
between Wiergate, TX and Leesville, LA.
in East Texas by
Newton County map showing Wiergate (NE of Newton)|
Texas General Land Office
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing
Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history, stories, and vintage/historic
photos of their town, please contact