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TodayJul 14, 2024
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The lumber companies which built “company” towns for their employees to live near the logging sites were usually generous in building churches and schools for the benefit of their employees. A good example of one such instance is that of Wiergate, Texas. Don Streetor wrote in his newspaper column “Another Day” (Beaumont Enterprise May 30, 1922) about Wiergate:

An important mark was chalked in the history of eastern Texas Sunday when the people of Wiergate, one of the most thriving sawmill towns in the state, dedicated its new Methodist Church, undoubtedly one of the prettiest small churches of the south . . .

There were those who figured Wiergate needed a good strong jail, rather than a church, but even those admitted a church would do more good than harm.

Not that Wiergate was a wild town, but it was a sawmill town, and now and then on hot Saturday nights sawmill workers sometimes got a little fidgety and contentious.

If you were anywhere in the pineys that Sunday, Methodist or not, you were aware they were dedicating a church.

Folks came from all over. The Wier family was well respected, which was fitting. Robert Wier of Houston, one of the owners of the Wiergate mill, was there, and his brother, a New Orleans minister, gave the dedication address. Their mother was there, too. Dr. D.S. Wier of Beaumont, his wife and two daughters, were on hand, along with a lot of other folks, such as Lutcher Stark of Orange, another of the mill’s owners, and the Rev. W.W. Watts of Beaumont, Methodist minister.

After they all settled down and got the little church dedicated, they went on tour of the mill, and Robert Wier made a speech, concerned more with the lumber business than with theology.

Wier told them the mill cost more than a million dollars, that it employed 800 persons, and that there was enough timber in the area to keep the mill running for thirty years.

Then everyone went home, contented and secure in the knowledge that God’s work and the lumber business were in good hands at Wiergate.

A new post office was opened in Wiergate in October, 1975. On October 19, a Sunday, the staff of the post office held open house on the grounds of the post office. It served as a type of homecoming for former residents of Wiergate when it was a big sawmill town. The popular comment of that day was that Wiergate was a town that did not die as is usual for a sawmill town when the supply of lumber declines. Wiergate still has a sawmill and it still is very much of a community if not a town. The Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company went into operation in 1918 and cut its last log in 1942. Brothers R.W. and T.P. Wier headed the company. “The company took care of everything” is a common view of people who once lived in Wiergate. The Wiers wanted to build the mill further south than Wiergate close to Burkeville, but landowners around Burkeville did not want sawmill workers moving into their town. Wiers made a deal to lease timber in northern Newton County and built a railroad spur called the Gulf and Northern to the town site.

Wiergate was an isolated community but was far from being backward. It had swimming pools, a recreation house that provided places to meet to play games, and even had a movie theater. The movie theater told the story of the social order. There were three distinct racial groups: whites, blacks, and Mexicans. The whites sat on the main floor and the other two in the balcony on separate sides. Their residences were also divided: the whites on the central hill, and the blacks on another hill, while the Mexicans on still another side. Folks rented their houses from the company.

The mill specialized in big long beams sawed from the tall long leaf pines of the region. A mill log would be graded as it was pulled out of the mill pond and sawyers would decide how to make best use of the logs. Sometimes it would be for common boards and sometimes it would be big beams two feet to a side and up to 40 feet long. Slab wood and saw dust would be used for fuel. Every day a train with up to twenty carloads of lumber would make a run to Newton, From there Wier Long Leaf Lumber would go all over the world.

A few people stayed on and when Wiergate Lumber Company opened another smaller mill a few years later there was still a town at the site. Where once there were as many as 2,500 people, now there are about 300.

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