WT Block Jr -- Olive, Texas is Now a Ghost Town
By W. T. Block
Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise, Saturday June 12, 1999.
NEDERLAND -- Three miles north of Kountze, beneath the pine needles bordering Highway 69, is the ghost town of Olive. In 1905 it was a thriving sawmill town of 1,200 people.
Olive had its beginning in Beaumont in 1876 when S. C. Olive and John A. Sternenberg purchased the prize steam engine and sawmill of E. P. Allis and Co., then on display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The proprietors then brought them to Beaumont, where they founded the Centennial Sawmill on the "steam mill square," bounded by Mulberry and Cypress Streets.
Soon tiring of an undependable log supply that had to be floated down Neches River, Olive, Sternenberg and Co. relocated in 1881 to Hardin County, where they had bought 40,000 acres of pine timber. They built the Sunset Sawmill at a new town to be called Olive.
By 1900 the population of Olive totaled 976 persons, of whom 172 were Black. The Olive tram road was 9 miles long and utilized 4 Baldwin and Shay locomotives to pull the 35 log cars to the mill. One surviving photo of an Olive log car shows 6 logs cut from a single pine tree, 48 inches in diameter.
S. C. Olive purchased all timberlands for the mill. He also purchased the entire lumber output, which was sold by the 35 retail yards of Waco Lumber Company, also owned by Sid Olive. Both Olive and Sternenberg were Confederate veterans.
John Sternenberg and his son Adolph ran the sawmill and operated the tram road. Sternenberg was also a farm and vineyard owner. He encouraged his employees to raise large gardens and run livestock on the company cut over lands.
In 1902 the owners built a large canning factory, with a daily capacity of 5,000 cans, for exclusive use of mill workers. Company employees owned all stock in the canning plant.
The company also owned 10 acres of grapevines, a 25-acre peach orchard, and a 50-acre vegetable farm. Hence the first grapes and peaches to reach Bell Commission Company in Beaumont each summer came from Olive.
In 1900 the original owners sold out to Van A. Petty, the company bookkeeper, and Adolph Sternenberg, the sawmill foreman. On May 1, 1904, the big Sunset sawmill burned down. The new owners kept their 250 employees at work rebuilding the mill, and in Nov. 1904, the new band sawmill began cutting 100,000 feet of logs daily.
By 1910, the company timber reserve was mostly used up, but luckily the purchase of a 3,600-acre tract of pine timber enabled the mill to survive until March, 1912, when the last log was slabbed. All mill buildings and company housing quickly disappeared.
For many years Olive, Sternenberg and Co. leased its cut over lands to gas and oil producers, and some lands still belong to the Scott Petty estate of San Antonio. As of 1920, only the Olive post office survived, but it was soon discontinued.
On the west side of Highway 69, however, only the tombstones remain, the town of Olive having long ago returned to forest. The best-preserved stone, enclosed in a wrought-iron fence, bears the lament in the German language of a young, immigrant widow, grieving for her husband, Johannes Paulsen, who died in 1897.