can find a model of sorts for today’s Wal-Mart superstores by looking
back to the 1880s and early 1900s in East
In those days, successful lumbermen decided that if their employees
were to live and work in sawmill towns like Diboll,
Keltys, Camden, Wiergate
and Groveton, they
needed a place to purchase life’s necessities.
So they came up with the forerunners of today’s Wal-Mart: commissary
stores. Under one roof the early lumber companies like Southern Pine
Lumber Company and Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company provided everything
from cornmeal to coffins.
With a single visit, a sawmill worker and his family could cash a
paycheck, buy the family’s groceries, pick up feed for their cows
and pigs, purchase clothing or sewing goods, pick out furniture, and
visit a doctor.
The commissary also became the center of the community. The prices
were usually reasonable and in some sawmill towns employees paid for
goods with tokens issued on wages earned. At first the tokens were
metal and later became wax-coated coins of various denominations and
During the Great Depression in the1930s, T.L.L. Temple kept many of
his employees at Diboll
on the payroll, even though they earned only a few dollars a day.
They spent most of their wages on food at the commissary, buying dried
beans, cornmeal and flour -- ten cents for two pounds.
The availability of cheaply priced food was one of the reasons Temple
kept his hands while other sawmills were losing men.
the demolition of the Diboll
commissary (the only one with a Texas Historical Marker), East
Texas has lost most of its old commissaries. One of the last I
am aware of was the is the old Trinity County Lumber Company store
at Groveton, which
was built in the late 1800s.
Standing in the downtown area, the commissary was fondly remembered
as having the atmosphere of a big happy family. A long front porch
across the front of the two-story building was often used as a stage
for local entertainment and traveling performers.
Some other commissary stores which have disappeared include:
County Lumber Company commissary at Keltys, near Lufkin.
Built in the l880s, the store was demolished in the 1960s when the
lumber company was sold. During its heyday it served as a supermarket,
post office, and drug store.
Wier Long Leaf
Lumber Company built its commissary in 1917 when the Wier family
started harvesting timber in Newton
County. The sawmill ceased production in 1942 and the commissary
was torn down two years later. However, a good collection of old
photos from Wiergate’s
boom years, including some of the commissary, is on display in the
town’s post office.
and Brother Lumber Company built a commissary when the lumber company
was founded in 1898. The store operated a unique system of pulleys
and canisters for carrying sawmill tokens and cash from the first
floor to a cashier’s cage on the second story. The store was razed
by Champion International when it purchased the lumber company in
Even though most of the old commissaries are gone, they will remain
an entrenched part of the memories of anyone who has ever lived
in a sawmill town.