buildings represent the lumbering life of early East
Texas as symbolically as the commissary store.
Almost every sawmill town had one. It was usually a durable, high-ceilinged
building that met every need of a sawmill family, from caps to caskets,
tasks to tractors, and salt to sides of beef.
They were indispensable institutions in the existence of any family
who lived deep in the East Texas forests, far from the civilities
of larger communities.
In a sawmill town, life literally revolved around the commissary store.
Loggers and sawmill workers frequently received their pay from one
room or window, went to another area for their staples and groceries,
picked up their mail at another cubicle, selected ready-to-wear clothing
or sewing goods from another area, and visited the doctor's office
at still another door.
Before the 1940s, when the government
put an end to the practice, many sawmill companies operated their
commissary stores under a system built around tokens, script, and
other monetary substitutes. A sawmill worker was paid entirely with
the substitutes, or with a combination of tokens and money, and exchanged
them at the commissary store for groceries, medicine, and other necessities.
Only a handful of the old commissaries are left in East
Texas today, and those that do remain have long changed their
reason for existence.
The most famous of the existing structures, the Southern Pine Lumber
Company commissary at Diboll,
long ago gave up selling mule feed and ice and became the corporate
offices for Temple-Eastex when the company was created as the result
of a merger of two Texas forest products firms in the 1960s. Today,
the commissary has even ceased to serve that purpose and is now a
Some other famous commissary stores in
East Texas include: * W.T. Carter and Brother Lumber Company at Camden.
Demolished in the early 1970s, the store served a Polk
County sawmill community founded in 1898 by W.T. Carter, a lumberman
and timberland owner. The store was a two-story building with a gallery
around three sides of the upper store.In addition to the general mercantile
store, W.T. Carter maintained a drug store, hospital, boarding house,
and school for Camden's loggers and sawmillers.
* Angelina County Lumber Company at Keltys. When it was founded in
the 1880s, the lumber company built a large commissary store, which
served as an early-day supermarket, drug store, and post office. The
store was demolished in the 1960s after the lumber company was sold.
* Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company at Wiergate.
This old commissary has also vanished. It was built in 1917 by the
Wier family in Newton
County near the Texas-Louisiana border. The commissary was frequented
by sawmillers, farmers and others who lived along the Sabine River.
At one time, Weirgate had more than 2,000 residents. The sawmill closed
in 1944 and the commissary store was torn down two years later.
* Trinity County Lumber Company in Groveton.
Built in the late 1880s, this commissary was usually called "the company
store." The building, which is still standing in downtown Groveton,
is fondly remembered by many Groveton residents as having "the atmosphere
of a big happy family home." The lumber company was founded in 1882
and was phased out in the late 1920s.
All Things Historical
Published by permission.
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Bob Bowman, a former president of the East Texas Historical Association,
is the author of 24 books on East Texas history and folklore. He lives