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Winnsboro's connection to the "Sawmill Bonanza" of the early 20th century

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

Four Mule Logging Team

Winnsboro, Texas, is a town full of history. One of Winnsboro's more interesting historical features is its connection to the "Sawmill Bonanza" of the early 1900s. The "Sawmill Bonanza" was a boom industry in East Texas that started around 1893 and peaked in the early depression years. East Texas was (and is) known for its Piney Woods, and fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, it was a way out for many poor folk in Winnsboro and the surrounding areas when times got tough.

There were sawmills before that time; the earliest ones in the area were established right around when Winnsboro was established in the 1850s. These were basic water sawmills and only produced about 500 board feet a day. At that time, the Pine Forests were thick and healthy, with many travelers saying the forests were "park-like." According to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), some Pine trees were "150 feet tall and over 5 ft in diameter".

It was only a matter of time before entrepreneurs saw the value in the pine trees. As the Great Depression loomed, new technology like the steam-powered engine became available; they started to set their sights on the Piney Woods.

Between 1880 and 1956, there were 88 sawmills near Winnsboro, 15 of which were located directly in the Winnsboro area, 11 in precinct 4, Winnsboro, and the rest spread out over nearby Wood County. The area was rich in pine trees, and a railyard was located in Winnsboro with a loading platform for lumber and Cotton. By the 1900s, sawmills started using steam and circular saws which bumped production from 500 board feet to 25,000 board feet a day per mill.

Sawmill work was hard and required long hours for very little pay. It was at the time considered by the US Census to be the most dangerous job in the United States. Most workers were only considered General Labor and made around $1.50 daily. Some loaders and operators made up to $2.00 a day, but the more people they could keep in general labor, the better it was for the company. Some area mills did not pay in cash. Instead, they were paid in Tokens which could only be used in the company Commissary. This kept workers from leaving the lousy working conditions and held them within the company. By 1932 the sawmill industry had ravaged the forests in East Texas, and many sawmills shut their doors and moved Northwest where there were trees to be harvested. Around that time, Franklin D Rosevelt put into place a program Called the "New Deal." This New Deal bought over 600,000 acres of land to turn it into National forests in Texas and started re-planting the Pines in a recovery effort. Many of the Pines we see in our Piney Woods today are descendants of that recovery effort.

Below is a list of the area Sawmills and what information can be found about them.

Winnsboro Lumber Company/Yother-Gibson Lumber Company

Location Elm Street, Downtown Winnsboro

steam power sawmill/plane mill

Time period: Yother -Gibson 1900-1909 Winnsboro Lumber Co, 1909-1920

Henry Snodgrass

Location Winnsboro, unknown

Power unknown, possibly gas Rough cut sawmill

Time period: 1934

R.A Martin/R. A. Marlin. Mullinax and Martin.

Location Winnsboro, Possibly Mill Street

Power Steam sawmill

Time Period: 1934

Northeast Texas Sash and Door Company

Location Winnsboro, unknown

Power unknown rough cut sawmill

Time Period: 1957

Martin Oak Flooring Company. R. C. Martin Lumber Company

Location Winnsboro, unknown

Power Steam, Gas rough lumber, plane sawmill, flooring

Time Period: 1950 to at least 1964

Joseph William Ogburn Lumber Co

Location, possibly Ogburn or Merrimac Community

Power unknown Rough Cut Lumber

Time Period: 1900 to 1907

Jack Gilliam

location Winnsboro, unknown

Power Unknown Rough-cut pine and plane sawmill

Time Period: 1957

JH Saxon

Location Winnsboro /Possibly Peach

Power Unknown Possibly Gas Lumber Mill

Time period: 1870-1879

Henry Snodgrass

Location Winnsboro, unknown

Power unknown Sawmill

Time Period: 1934

F.M. Crone & Son

location Merrimac Community

Power Unknown Sawmill plane mill and rough cut lumber

Time Period: 1909

Conner Campbell Lumber Company/ B. F. Campbell

Location Winnsboro, unknown

Power Steam sawmill plane mill and rough Lumber

Time Period: 1908 -1950

NOTE: This was one of the most successful sawmills in Winnsboro, Lasting not only through the Great Depression but also during a time when Winnboro had a 60% decrease in population

Carl D Minick

Location Winnsboro, unknown

Power unknown sawmill

Time Period: 1958- 1966

Bradley & Mallory

Location Winnsboro, unknown

Power Unknown rough cut sawmill

Time Period: 1934

Ragley Lumber Company

Location Winnsboro, Unknown

Power unknown Rough Cut

Time period: 1890-1904

Other nearby sawmills:

J.M. Lawerance & Son

E. Roberts

Brown & Newsome

B. Goodson

J. Rollow

M.J. Brown

Morris & Yarbrough

Peter Mangus Gunstream

W.J. Perry


Web & Lawrence

All Statistics can be found on the Texas Forestry service website.


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