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    A Sawmill Ghost Town
    Aldridge, Texas
    Jasper County

    by Bob Bowman
    Bob Bowman
    Aldridge is perhaps the most isolated and desolate of East Texas’ ghost towns--a somnolent cluster of weathered concrete and brick ruins wrapped in the growth of a Neches River forest.

    Nearly a century ago, the old ruins were the backbone of a sawmill town whose fortunes rose and fell with the vast virgin pinelands of Jasper and Angelina counties.

    The town lasted less than 20 years, but the sawmill’s sturdy buildings that were abandoned on the river’s bank have kept Aldridge’s legends alive.

    Unfortunately, the buildings have been tarnished by graffiti, chipped by inconsiderate campers, and trashed by wanderers. It has been a sad ending for one of the few remaining early sawmill complexes in East Texas.

    Today, however, the U.S. Forest Service is riding to Aldridge’s rescue.

    The federal agency, which administers the Angelina National Forest where Aldridge stands, has closed the buildings to public access because of deterioration, vandalism, and structural problems.

    The buildings will remain closed until a team of archeologists and engineers can assess the site and develop plans to make it safe and accessible for the public.

    Lumberman W.H. Aldridge came to this corner of East Texas around 1900. Impressed with the thick pine forests he found along the Neches River, he established a mill site in 1903, guiding hundreds of men and tons of machinery--some by river barge, some by ox cart--to a sweeping bend on the river near Burr’s Ferry Crossing.

    Pouring concrete by hand, Aldridge’s men built two massive dry kilns and a powerhouse with floors four feet thick. They also built a two-story wooden building to house the giant saws that ripped through the pines, a concrete engine room, and other massive concrete structures.

    While the work was time-consuming and laborious, Aldridge’s crews put into the buildings ornate roof lines, archways and an architectural sophistication seldom seen in sawmills. It seemed as if they expected the mill to last for centuries.

    The town of Aldridge began to shape itself around the mill--including a large commissary store, a hundred or so houses for sawmill families, a school, and a church--all made from Neches River pine. A railroad line--the Burr’s Ferry, Browndell and Chester Railroad--soon connected the town with a main line at Rockland.

    Aldridge’s mill was soon producing 100,000 board feet lumber a day and shipping it to booming Texas cities like Dallas, Houston, and Beaumont.

    When W.H. Aldridge decided to sell the mill and move to El Paso, the mill was sold to a man named Trevathan, but in a year he sold the company to Keith Lumber Company. In another year, it was owned by Kirby Lumber Company, which operated a sister mill at nearby Browndell.

    Aldridge reached the peak of its prosperity around 1912, but three years later a fire burned down the sawmill and parts of the town. The mill’s owner decided not to rebuild the mill, and in the 1920s workmen began to smash holes in the concrete buildings to remove the mill’s machinery. The railroad tracks were taken up in l925.

    The U.S. Forest Service acquired the town site and much of the cutover forests in the l930s, incorporating the holdings into the Angelina National Forest.

    Today, the ruins of Aldridge loom like forgotten monuments deep in the forest, waiting for someone to remember their rich history in the lumber industry.


    © Bob Bowman
    September 12, 2011 Column
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    A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
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    (Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)

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    The Forgotten Towns of East Texas, Vol. I
    By Bob and Doris Bowman
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