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.
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
The only significant building allowed to remain was the historic W.T.
Carter & Bro. office building, which became the headquarters for the
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
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.”
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.)
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