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.
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.
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.
however, the U.S. Forest Service is riding to Aldridge’s rescue.
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.
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.
mill was soon producing 100,000 board feet lumber a day and shipping it to booming
Texas cities like Dallas, Houston,
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.
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.
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.
the ruins of Aldridge loom like forgotten monuments deep in the forest, waiting
for someone to remember their rich history in the lumber industry.
September 12, 2011
Bowman's East Texas >
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