OF A TOWN
by Bob Bowman
the 1960s, Camden--a sawmill town tucked away in the tall pines of northern Polk
County--held a special place in history. It was the last company town in East
Texas, the product of a benevolent lumbering family who built the community
nearly seven decades earlier.|
Then, in a matter of months, most of Camden
Polk County map showing Camden|
(Above "K" in "P-O-L-K",
NE of Livingston , NW of Woodville.)
Courtesy Texas General Land Office
600 or so inhabitants were relocated. All of their dwellings were demolished or
sold. The town’s landmarks--including its school, railroad depot, commissary store,
and combination hotel and restaurant -- disappeared from the community.|
Camden didn’t vanish in a spooky flash like mythical Brigadoon.
U.S. Plywood-Champion Paper bought the W.T. Carter & Bro. Lumber Company in March,
1968, it agreed to keep the Camden sawmill going and manage 180,000 acres of old-growth
timber. But it had no intentions of owning a company town.
employees and their families were relocated to better houses near Corrigan and
most of the town’s buildings were sold, relocated elsewhere or destroyed.
The only significant building allowed to remain was the historic W.T. Carter
& Bro. office building, which became the headquarters for the new owner.
The new owners of the sawmill also gave consideration to abandoning the Moscow,
Camden and San Augustine Railroad, a shortline chartered by the Carters in 1898.
But the railroad remained and continues to shuttle carloads of lumber, plywood
and wood chips to the mainline Union Pacific at Moscow.
However, several other pieces of railroading history left town. The railroad
depot became a part of the Texas Forestry Museum in Lufkin
and eleven retired locomotives were given by the Carter family to various museums
in Texas and Arkansas.
The Carter lumber
company was founded by William Thomas Carter in 1876 in Trinity County. He founded
W.T. Carter & Bro. in 1883 with Ernest A. Carter and Jack Thomas with a new sawmill
at Barnum. In 1898, after the Barnum mill burned, the company moved its operations
to Camden, a site named for Camden, New Jersey, the hometown of surveyor of T.H.
During the seventy years they owned the Camden sawmill, the
Carters treated their employees like family members. They provided homes, a community
school, a baseball field, gardens, electricity, water and a commissary store for
all their household needs.
“The Lord never made better people than the
Carters, from old W.T. to the ones around today,” Needham Weatherford, the Carters’
logging boss, told the Dallas Morning News in 1968.
Earl Amerine, an
engineer for the MC&SA, said there was “nothing high-tone about the Carters.”
He said the “Carter kids, when they were growing up, ran around with the other
Camden children, and wore the same kind of overalls. And you could go to the Carters
with trouble, any kind of trouble, and they would really help you.”
13, 2005 Column
Published with permission (Distributed as a public service
by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman is a former president of
the Association and author of more than 30 books on East Texas.)