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WIERGATE, TEXAS

An East Texas Sawmill Ghost Town

Newton County, East Texas
Farm Road 1415, off State Hwys 87 & 63
NE of
Newton
NE of
Jasper
70 miles NE of Beaumont

by Bob Bowman
The 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 and steel.

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 economic activity.

One such survivor is Wiergate -- the one-time home of Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company -- in northern Newton County.

Grass 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 woods.

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.

At 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 to caskets.

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.

© Bob Bowman
"All Things Historical"
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.

Burr’s Ferry

Several old ferry cables can still be seen at Burr’s Ferry, which also crossed the Sabine between Wiergate, TX and Leesville, LA.
(From Ferries in East Texas
by Bob Bowman)
Texas- 1940s Newton County map
1940s Newton County map showing Wiergate (NE of Newton)
Courtesy Texas General Land Office
Texas 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 us.
Wiergate, Texas
Area Destinations:

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Jasper
Beaumont

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