San Augustine County

Kathy Wilkening & Steve Wilkening

SAN AUGUSTINE COUNTY. San Augustine County is in extreme East Texas, twenty-three miles from the eastern state boundary. It is bordered by the Attoyac River on the west, Sabine County on the east, Shelby County to the north, and Sam Rayburn Reservoir to the south. San Augustine, the largest town and county seat, is just north of the county center. The Timberrock Railroad enters the county from the north and bisects the county.

After 1779 both new and former residents moved into the area that they called the Ayish Bayou District. Their numbers greatly increased after disease and threats from other tribes forced the Caddo Indians to relocate late in the seventeenth century. After 1806, when the disputed strip of territory between the Spanish and United States boundaries was declared the Neutral Ground to avoid military contact, the governments refused to grant land in the area to settlers. This policy did little to discourage immigrants, however. Early inhabitants included Gertrudis and Antonio Leal, Richard and Concepción Sims, Susanna Horton, John Quinalty, Martha Lewes, Edmund Quirk, Chichester Chaplin, and Bailey Anderson, Sr. Most settlers, including scattered remnants of Cherokee, Kickapoo, Delaware, and Shawnee tribes, emigrated from Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. In 1819 William Ward erected the first sawmill in Texas between the Ironosa and Attoyac rivers, and Lewis Holloway constructed the second one in the same area soon after. Cotton cultivation began in 1825, and the following year John Sprowl and John A. Williams built the first local gins.

By 1850 the county population was 3,648. The county seat had several stores and remained the center of community activity, though other communities were developing. In 1854 thirteen school districts were established, each electing a board of trustees. That same year the first courthouse was erected. Public roads were maintained by order of the county court based on the recommendations of a review board. The court also established ferries over unfordable streams and creeks.

The 1870s proved to be difficult times for the county. Future metropolitan areas, particularly Houston and Dallas, and the West Texas plains were attracting more pioneers, and soon San Augustine was no longer the gateway for immigration. Newer trade centers and methods of transportation had decreased the importance of the Old San Antonio Road as well. Settlers no longer flocked to the area, but those already established seldom moved away. Some farmers had lost their land holdings because of high taxes, and fencing sometimes made herding more difficult. In other parts of the state, the lumber industry was booming, and while the county had a huge timber resource, only small sawmills could function without the railroad. Some managed by felling trees and then floating them downriver to the huge mills at Orange and Beaumont.

In 1901 the Gulf, Beaumont and Great Northern Railroad built a line through the county, with a rail stop in the county seat. The St. Louis and Southwestern Railway also extended a line into the southern part of the county, and rail towns like Warsaw, Veach, and Broaddus developed. This new form of transportation also made large sawmill operations feasible for the first time. Sawmill camps and towns sprang up, bringing more people and money into the area. By 1920 the county population had increased to 13,737, including 4,152 black citizens. The number of industries had risen slightly to nine; many of these were railroad and lumber related services and employed a total of 214 workers.

The Nacogdoches and Northeastern Railroad extended a rail line into the county, as did some lumber companies. Later in the decade some companies exhausted the timberlands and left the county, but this failed to cause massive hardship. The widescale clearing of land, new transportation to markets, and more local consumers led to an increase in farming. In 1920, 1,606 county residents farmed; 1,130, or 56 percent, were sharecroppers, and of these 476 were black. That year San Augustine County produced 205,500 bushels of corn, 2,401 tons of sugar cane, and 1,043 bales of hay. Many farmers also grew truck crops such as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, cabbage, and peas. Local nurseryman W. F. McDonald developed a blight-proof pear and a watermelon with yellow meat. The number of milk cows had almost doubled to 7,563, and growers reported 47,185 chickens. Cattle and corn were shipped to market. Dairy products, syrup, fruit, eggs, and much of the corn was sold to lumber camps for supplemental income.

As both the population and economy developed, county residents realized the need for better, more modern facilities. The old courthouse, constructed in 1890, was torn down and replaced in 1927 with a $100,000 stone structure. Many of the roads were graveled. In San Augustine citizens had access to city-owned water, light, and sewage utilities, as well as an ice plant and natural-gas services. Children attended new schools, including a one-story high school. The county was hard hit by the weak agricultural economy of the 1920s, followed by the Great Depression. Each year San Augustine County, along with other southern counties, had produced larger crops until overabundance resulted in a depressed economy. As prices fell, farmers produced more to increase their income, but the boll weevil often destroyed a field before it could be harvested. In addition to these difficulties the large lumber companies had exhausted most of the timberlands of East Texas and began to move out of the area. As a result an important source of livelihood was lost. This disturbed the county economy, removing an important market and many consumers. Even the small sawmills that managed to remain open could not operate at full capacity, so many workers were laid off. The lumber boom was never again as successful as before the depression, and residents returned to farming. By 1930 the number of sharecroppers increased to 1,038. Federally funded aid came in the form of local Work Projects Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps projects, as well as governmental loans. However, the number of sharecroppers continued to rise, reaching 1,101 in 1940.

By the beginning of World War II the local economy was fairly stable. Farming remained the prevalent occupation, and in unsuccessful years farmers sold timber to offset their losses. Corn, cotton, lumber, and poultry were the most abundant productions. Only three industries, which employed thirty-three people, had survived the depression. Some of the roads were now hard-surfaced, so truck farming was even more feasible. But overall, things were much as they had been before the economic boom of the early 1900s. Many of the young people who left the area during the war chose not to return, and others moved to more metropolitan areas, especially Houston and Dallas, in search of jobs. By 1950 the county population had decreased to 8,837, which included 3,425 African-American residents. The number of farms fell from 2,162 in 1940 to 1,064 in 1950, and corn output was down to 77,178 bushels, a decline of 50 percent. As farming became less prevalent, so did farm tenancy. Only 283 declared themselves as sharecroppers and forty-three as tenants in the 1950 census. Dairy farming had become virtually nonexistent, with the number of milk cows decreasing by 97 percent. The size of cattle herds had, however, increased, as ranching began to replace farming as a major source of income. Former cotton fields became pasturelands.
Farming continued to decline through the 1960s.

By 1969 there were only 468 farms in the county; 137 of these operated under the share system. They produced 1,000 bales of cotton, as well as large amounts of corn and hay. The number of cattle had risen to 13,000. Lumber companies began the practice of reseeding cut-over acreage, and timber again became a source of supplemental income. There were a few sawmills in the county, but the business was dominated by large corporations, which usually bought rights to the trees or to the property itself. The median income for families living in the county seat was $2,750. Desegregation was accomplished, though late in the decade, without incident. While the majority of people attended elementary school, only 11 percent completed high school or college. In 1965 the United States Army Corps of Engineers completed Sam Rayburn Dam, thus forming Sam Rayburn Reservoir and inundating the Angelina and Attoyac rivers. The following year Toledo Bend Reservoir was constructed on the Sabine River twenty-three miles east of San Augustine County. The county contained 9,000,000 acre-feet of fresh water, as well as the 154,916-acre Angelina National Forest and the 188,220-acre Sabine National Forest. Recreational facilities in the woodlands and along the lakes attracted large numbers of visitors, and tourism became a new and important source of income. Operation White Tail, a 10,000-acre deer preserve, was also established.

In the 1970s the population stabilized at 8,000. Of these, 343 were farmers who produced fruit and vegetables for home consumption or local markets. Many other residents preferred to raise cattle or poultry.

In 2014 the census counted 8,610 people living in San Augustine County. About 68.8 percent were Anglo, 22.6 percent were African American, and 7 percent were Hispanic. Over 57 percent of residents age twenty-five and older had four years of high school, and more than 8 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century lumbering, shipping, and some manufacturers were important elements of the area’s economy. In 2002 the county had 308 farms and ranches covering 58,723 acres, 37 percent of which were devoted to woodlands, 33 percent to crops, and 29 percent to pastures. In that year local farmers and ranchers earned $24,980,000, with crop sales accounting for $23,977,000 of that total. Poultry, cattle, horses, watermelons, peas, and truck crops were the chief agricultural products. Almost 22,556,000 cubic feet of pinewood and more than 1,771,700 cubic feet of hardwood were harvested in the county in 2003. San Augustine (population, 2,089) is the county’s seat of government and largest town; other communities include Broaddus (208), Macune, Denning, Blandlake, Fords Corner, Norwood, White Rock, and Goodwin. A spring crafts fair, Fairway Farms Country Club, and the annual Tour of Medallion Homes and Historic Places were popular attractions.

Herbert Eugene Bolton, "The Spanish Abandonment and Re-occupation of East Texas, 1773–1779," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 9 (October 1905). James E. Corbin et al., Mission Dolores de los Ais (Papers in Anthropology 2, Nacogdoches: Stephen F. Austin State University, 1980). George L. Crocket, Two Centuries in East Texas (Dallas: Southwest, 1932; facsimile reprod. 1962). Hamilton Pratt Easton, History of the Texas Lumbering Industry (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1947). Alexander Horton, "Life of A. Horton and Early Settlement of San Augustine County," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 14 (April 1911). Thomas Clarence Richardson, East Texas: Its History and Its Makers (4 vols., New York: Lewis Historical Publishing, 1940). William Seale, San Augustine in the Texas Republic (Austin: Encino, 1969). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.