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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

DEMISE OF A TOWN
Camden, Texas

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
In 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 vanished.
Polk County Texas 1920s
1920s Polk County map showing Camden
(Above "K" in "P-O-L-K", NE of Livingston , NW of Woodville.)
Courtesy Texas General Land Office
The town’s 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.

When 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.

The sawmill’s 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. Woodson.

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.”

All Things Historical > June 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.)
Camden, Texas
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