The town of Aldridge in East Texas once had a busy sawmill. The hundreds of mill workers and the forest crews who chopped the lumber all lived with their families in the town. Aldridge was a community created to serve a single purpose—to extract and process timber resources. There were many such East Texas sawmill towns, and they played a significant role in the American economy by providing the lumber needed to build towns across the United States.
The East Texas logging trade began in the late 1880s and lasted until the late 1920s. The forests in the northern United States had already been chopped down, and southern lumber and other wood products were in high demand. The forests of East Texas attracted new investment capital to finance larger, more powerful logging operations.
Timber production shifted from the small, family-owned sawmills to industrialized operations employing hundreds of people. The lumber companies built their own railroads to connect their remote sawmills and "company towns" with shipping points for their products.
The Aldridge Sawmill operated between 1905 and 1923. It produced up to 125,000 board feet of lumber per day, making it a large operation for its time. Frequent fires and the gradual depletion of nearby timber resources led to the closing of the Aldridge operation. Over time, the town’s houses and factory buildings were torn down for material reuse, or they were abandoned to natural decay.
An estimated 615 sawmills were operating in Texas in 1910. Most of the pristine pine forests were cut down within a few decades. Demand for lumber fell during the Great Depression. Some of the large timber companies moved their operations to the Pacific Northwest, while others went into bankruptcy. Together, these factors brought an end to the Texas lumber boom period.
In the 1930s, the U.S. Forest Service began to purchase cutover timberlands in East Texas. Over the past 70 years, the Forest Service has replanted these lands and replenished the East Texas timber reserves, implemented sustained yield practices, and instituted programs to conserve the soil, water, and other natural resources of the region.
Source: Aldridge Sawmill and the East Texas Logging Boom
© Texas Beyond History, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin