Friday, 02 September 2011
MAGNOLIA — In the early 1900s, Magnolia was a focal point for the growing timber products industry. Its acres of virgin pine forest and access to railroad transportation made it an attractive location for several large lumber operations. Some of the region’s sawmills employed several hundred families in capacities from timbering and sawing to bookkeeping and managing the commissary.
“Grogan’s Mill was one of the largest if not the largest of the sawmills,” said Celeste Graves, who worked as secretary to general manager Henry Grogan.
The Grogan-Cochran Lumber Company was organized in 1917, with its first timbering sites near Conroe and a mill in Tamina. In 1926, Grogan purchased the Lone Star Lumber Company mill, built in 1918 just southeast of downtown Magnolia.
Grogan-Cochran expanded the mill, located near the site of the present-day Hancock Shopping Center, to enable the use of day and night crews. Between 300 and 400 families were employed, many of them having moved from the Tamina operation which closed in 1927.
Horses, oxen and mules provided muscle power to help lumberjacks cut trees. Steam engines from locomotives, with boilers powered by sawdust, shavings and other discarded wood, provided power for the large saws. Inside the mill, workers sorted, debarked, sawed and edged logs, then trimmed and dried the lumber in kilns before it was planed and shipped to market.
Sawmills would generally pay their workers either in company scrip or coinage made from metal alloy that was accepted at the company store, called the commissary, and by some local farmers and merchants. The scrip could be cashed in periodically with the mills for U.S. currency.
“You could buy just about everything at the commissary—shoes, clothing, furniture, hardware, everything,” Graves said.
Finished lumber products from area mills were shipped out by rail via the International & Great Northern Railroad until the advent of efficient trucking in the 1940s. Henry Grogan founded a new company, Grogan-Grisham Lumber Trucks, to deliver lumber statewide.
Over the years, the mill suffered multiple fires. Three separate fires in the late 1940s ravaged the mill and its associated buildings. The complex was rebuilt on nearby land, but in August 1952 another major fire heavily damaged the planer and commissary of the rebuilt mill.
Grogan’s Mill closed down in 1960, because local operations had ceased to be cost-effective. More than 200 jobs, with an annual payroll upwards of $700,000, were terminated.
“When the mill closed down, we thought it would mean that the school was going to close down, because a lot of kids were the children of folks who worked for the mill,” Graves said.
Many families were forced to look elsewhere for work. Some made long commutes to Conroe and Willis, many were employed in general labor, and a few worked at smaller “peckerwood” operations that produced lumber for local construction. Graves said her fears that Magnolia’s existence would be cut short by the mill’s closure fortunately did not come to pass.
“Obviously, we’re still here—12,000 kids strong [in Magnolia ISD] and growing!”
Sources: Magnolia Memories by Celeste Graves, Texas Forestry Museum