Diboll, Texas: Built for Timer
Nestled deep in the Texas Forest Trail Region lies US 59. As the lengthy portion of the highway dissects East Texas, the towns scattered along its roadside are steeped in both heritage and history. Perhaps no other town exemplifies the Texas lumber industry more than Diboll, Texas.
Take a step back in time with us and travel deep into the Piney Woods to discover the rich history of the town of this timber town.
To understand Diboll’s significant contributions to the state, you must first understand who settled the area. With only a decade passing since Texas won its independence from Mexico, the state’s population was still sparse. In 1846, Nacogdoches County split off a portion of mostly unpopulated land to create Angelina County. Texas Monthly journalist, John Nova Lomax, described the earliest settlers as “Scotch-Irish backwoods folks” that wanted little more than to homestead this area of the Piney Woods. These frontiersmen were considered the hardiest of people who could survive only on what they could catch and trap from the surrounding rivers and woods.
With little resources to farm large sections of land, crop production was limited. Angelina County fell behind the curve in the King Cotton era. Even with a sizeable 865 square miles of land, only 16,000 acres yielded cotton by 1860. Ranching dominated over farming well past the Civil War. However, raising livestock of any kind was a futile task on land so dense with various species of hardwoods, including longleaf pine.
A New Crop Emerges
Large scale farming and ranching operations in the area continued to be an unsuccessful venture. Fortunately for Angelina County, it had one resource desperately needed for the redevelopment of the South after the war – lumber.
By the end of the 19th century, enterprising businessmen began purchasing large parcels of land rich with pine stands. While their harvests were incredibly successful, they struggled with transporting their timber. Hauling lumber loads to mills was a painfully arduous process that was dependent on three things that simply could not be influenced – stock animals, weather, and luck.
By 1880, an impressive system of railways and trams soon connected every pocket of East Texas. While the railroads alleviated some of the issues landowners faced, they were still plagued with the lack of sawmills within the county. Also, with no local operations, very little money stayed within the county for continued development. This was a huge detriment to the local economy. Fortunately enough, Thomas Lewis Latane Temple would soon arrive in Angelina County.
Be sure to read next week’s post where we conclude this series and bring Diboll into the 21st century.
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