The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983 Page: 1
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The First Big Mill:
The Beginnings of Commercial Lumbering
ROBERT S. MAXWELL *
FROM THE EARLIEST TRAVELS AND EXPLORATIONS OF WHITE MEN IN
the East Texas region the great pine forests attracted their atten-
tion and served as a source of fuel and timber. Perhaps the first loggers
were the Spanish priests and monks who established missions to the
Indians of East Texas beginning in 1716. These missions, however,
were later abandoned, the buildings decayed and disappeared, and the
forests reoccupied the sites so completely that even the exact locations
of these premature settlements are uncertain.'
A century later, when Stephen F. Austin first came to Texas, there
were some primitive hand-sawing operations (probably pit sawyers)
several places along the rivers and near the coast. Apparently some
water-powered mills began operations on an irregular basis during the
decade or so before 1830. There is a record of a water-powered mill
operating at San Augustine as early as 1819 and of another mill, which
operated with a horse-powered treadmill, in 1825. Near Nacogdoches,
Peter Ellis Bean, veteran adventurer and sometime Mexican govern-
ment official, built a water-powered combined sawmill and gristmill
sometime before 1829. He also ran a lumberyard in the town, which,
judging from surviving letters and documents, maintained a consid-
erable inventory of building materials. There were similar sawmills in
operation in Cherokee County and doubtless elsewhere in the region
during the same period. But all of these were small, water-powered,
sash mills, which crudely and laboriously produced lumber at not
more than 500 to 2,000 board feet per day. The power to operate such
mills was secured by damming up local creeks.2
* Robert S. Maxwell is professor of history at Stephen F. Austin State University.
1Rupert N. Richardson, Texas, The Lone Star State (2nd ed.; Englewood Cliffs, N.J.,
2Historical Marker, SH 21, San Augustine, records that a sawmill was built in 1819 on
Ironosa Creek one-fourth mile north of marker; Green Payton, The Face of Texas: A
Survey in Words and Pictures (New York, 1961), 84, 85; Texas Almanac and State In-
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983, periodical, 1982/1983; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101209/m1/21/?rotate=90: accessed March 30, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.