The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983 Page: 2
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Steam-powered mills made their appearance in East Texas during
the 183os. Mary Austin Holley, writing in 1831, predicted that, with
no want of timber and a rapidly increasing demand for lumber, "For-
tunes may be realized here by good sawyers, with a slight capital."
Shortly before this, John Richardson Harris, the founder of Harris-
burg, had traveled to New Orleans to buy sawmill machinery but died
of fever while in the Crescent City. His brothers, William Plunket
Harris and David Harris, with Robert Wilson, brought the machinery
to Texas and set up a mill near Harrisburg in 1830. This was one of
the earliest, if not the earliest, steam mills in the state. This mill was
described as a small steam-powered circular-saw outfit that operated
for a time producing lumber that the owners shipped throughout
Central Texas, with some wagons traveling as far as San Antonio. Ac-
cording to early settlers, General Santa Anna's troops burned the mill
along with much of the town during their invasion in April, 1836.3
As the Republic grew after the Revolution the demand for lumber
caused a number of sawmills to spring up along Buffalo Bayou and
elsewhere in Southeast Texas. A visitor in 1837 observed that "lum-
ber of all kinds was hard to be procured and was selling for seventy
dollars a thousand." A year later the Frenchman Eugene Maissin
commented on the rapid building of new sawmills and described
Houston as a town "made of planks sawed yesterday and scarcely
dry."4 Boats, barges, and rafts transported much of the manufactured
lumber down Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River to Galveston
Bay, where it could be transshipped to its destination.
dustrial Guide, 1958-1959 (Dallas, 1957), 316, 318; R. B. Blake Papers, Nacogdoches Ar-
chives (75 vols. Bound typescript), vol. LII, 142-149 (Stephen F. Austin State University
Library, Nacogdoches, Texas). In 1833 Bean and Frost Thorn purchased a league of
land together with a "sawmill, grist mill, houses, and barns" on La Nana Creek near
Nacogdoches. See Bennett Lay, The Lives of Ellis P. Bean (Austin, 196o), 153, 198; Hattie
Joplin Roach, A History of Cherokee County (Texas) (Dallas, 1934), 87.
3Bill Doree, "Texas' First Steam-Powered Sawmill: The Story of How Three Men Fought
Overwhelming Odds to Capture a Market and Spawn an Industry," Gulf Coast Lumber-
man (Apr., 1963), 13, 26. According to this account the mill consisted of a small steam
engine, a small circular saw, and a "make-shift Arkansas smoke kiln." Mary Austin
Holley, Texas (Lexington, Ky., 1836) 5, 6, 71, 120; J. H. Kuykendall, "Reminiscences of
Early Texans, A Collection from the Austin Papers," The Quarterly of the Texas State
Historical Association, VII (July, 1903) 29-64; Adele B. Looscan, "Harris County, 1822-
1845," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XVIII (Oct., 1914), 195-207; Adele B. Looscan,
"The Pioneer Harrises of Harris County, Texas," ibid., XXXI (Apr., 1928), 365-371;
Adele B. Looscan, "Journal of Lewis Birdsall Harris, 1836-1842," ibid., XXV (Jan., 1922),
4Andrew Forest Muir (ed.), Texas in 1837, An Anonymous Contemporary Narrative
(Austin, 1958), 29; Eugene Maissin, The French in Mexico and Texas (I838-1839), trans.
and ed. James L. Shepherd (Salado, Tex., 1961), 185-186.
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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/m1/22/: accessed May 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.