WT Block Jr -- Fostoria
Once Was Prosperous Sawmill Town
W. T. Block
Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, January 5, 2005, p. A14.
Should one travel about five miles west of Cleveland on Texas 105, there is a marker pointing north to the sawmill town of Fostoria. There is nothing there now, except a few concrete foundations covered with pine needles and an old abandoned cemetery.
In 1890 seven Foster brothers from Kansas City operated 24 large retail lumber yards with an insatiable appetite for lumber, and about 1895 they turned to Montgomery County to satisfy their demand. At first the Foster Lumber Co. operated in Texas as the Trinity River Lumber Co., and contracted with sawmillers at Conroe, Beach, Leonidas, New Caney, Clinesburg and Pocahontas for the entire output of its mills.
In 1897 H. H. Everest bought an old sawmill at Clinesburg (later Fostoria), and he changed the mill’s name to the Texas Tie and Lumber Co. Everest’s sawmill had no planing mill, so Foster Lumber built one to process all of Everest’s rough lumber. Foster consistently loaned Everest money to upgrade his mill, and when the latter defaulted in August 1904, Foster Lumber took possession after a bankruptcy sale. The next action was to change the town’s name from Clinesburg to Fostoria.
Almost immediately Foster dismantled Isaac Conroe’s old mill at Beach and moved it to Fostoria, thus adding two bandsaw headrigs and a gangsaw. Foster revalued its Fostoria investment at $700,000, but most of that figure included 130,000 acres of timberlands that the company had just purchased in Montgomery, Harris, Liberty and San Jacinto counties.
In 1904 Foster already owned 140 tenant houses in Fostoria for its planing mill employees, but by 1910 the company had built 100 more. One author observed that, “...Fostoria was clean and better-equipped than the average mill town. Its buildings were regularly painted, and it presented a pleasing, prosperous appearance...”
Mary Stephens wrote that, “...Fostoria was a company town. A company generator provided electricity. There was no charge for utilities, and houses rented for $1 a room monthly. There were schools, a church, commissary, depot, hotel, combination hospital and pharmacy, theater, community hall and a baseball team...”
In 1915 Fostoria employed 350 mill hands and loggers, and its population reached 1,000. With its bandsaws, Fostoria processed more than 35,000,000 feet of lumber annually.
The 25 miles of tram road connected with the Santa Fe railway at Fostoria and with the Houston East and West Texas rails at Midline. Logging was done in four counties, using four locomotives and 60 log cars, with 150 loggers employed in the forests.
Fostoria was quite conscientious about its timber reserve and logging practices. About 1950 the mill reduced its daily cut to 80,000 feet, and even when the sawmill closed in July 1957, “its second growth timber was still plentiful...” It was reported that the Foster Co. descendents had simply decided to quit the sawmill field. So they either sold or dismantled the mill fixtures; they also sold the tenant houses to those employees that wanted them; and within a year the once prosperous mill town became only a memory.
Perhaps on some still, clear day, provided one’s nostalgia is geared to fever pitch and one’s ear is cupped to windward, one might still hear the big bandsaw’s screech, begging the pine needles to cover once more the concrete foundations that today mark the mill town’s grave.