|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - January 2009
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Railroad names depot after incomplete sign
Polk County Enterprise - January 2009
by Bob Bowman
Fawil, it has been said, is a town that got its name by accident. When Fonzo A. Wilson, a native Georgian who came to Texas in the early l890s, built a sawmill in 1905, he decided to paint a sign on his mill. Local history holds that Wilson painted his initials F.A. and started on his last name, but ran out of room on the short board, leaving only the first three letters of Wilson. When the Jasper and Eastern Railway came through the region, the stop was named Fawil after Wilson’s incomplete sign. The name stuck and the Newton County town grew up beside the railroad as a well-known sawmill town. Located on Farm Road 363 about five miles west of Bon Wier and 55 miles northeast of Beaumont, Fawil rests on a land grant that dates from 1836. Dense forests and red clay made agriculture difficult for early settlers, but by 1903 Tom Hughes had established a small-scale lumbering operation in what was known as “the Davis community.” Because there were no railroads and few good roads, Hughes had to haul his cut trees to Belgrade, several miles away on the Sabine River, and float them down the river to sawmills at Orange. Loggers often bundled the logs as rafts and rode them down the river. As the logs sped down the river, bumping and clashing with each other, accidents and deaths were not uncommon among the men. With the arrival of the Jasper and Eastern Railway, Fawil and other lumbering communities in Newton County were linked by rails with sawmills at Kirbyville, Texas, and Oakdale, Louisiana. Fonzo Wilson sold his mill to Will E. Gray, who also owned a sawmill and shingle operation in Beaumont, and the ownership of the Fawil mill eventually passed to John Ramsey and Joe Kinner. Other lumbering operations in the vicinity also provided employment to Fawil’s people and the town eventually acquired a pole mill and a shingle mill. The Sante Fe Railroad also started running passenger lines through Fawil, stopping at noon and 4 p.m., giving Fawil residents access to distant towns. There is no record that Fawil had a post office. The town’s mail service likely came from Bon Wier because of its close proximity. With the collapse of the lumber industry in the 1930s and the outbreak of World War II, Fawil began to decline and in 1949 its school was consolidated with Newton. But during the 1970s, Fawil began to see a rebirth of sorts when Kirby Lumber Company built a large plywood plant near the community, providing hundreds of new jobs for the area.
Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of 40 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bobbowman. com