Fawil, named for a 'typo,' important rail town

By Bob Bowman
Journal Correspondent

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 in East Texas.

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, the year Texas won its independence from Mexico.

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's sawmill was considered to be a small operation, cutting only 10,000 board feet a day.

Wilson subsequently 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 Santa Fe Railroad also started running passenger lines through Fawil, stopping at noon and 4 p.m., giving Fawil residents access to distant towns.

The Davis family, one of the region's earliest settlers, donated land for Fawil's first school around 1900. It was a one-room building which eventually grew to three rooms and three teachers.

Ramsey Davis, who was born in 1897, lived in one of the early log houses in the Fawil area. Other pioneers who made their homes in the region included the Hughes, Wilson, Simmons, Gray, Ramsey, DuBose and Herrin families.

A cemetery at Fawil was named for Sam Herrin, who was born on June 30, 1846, and died here on May 8, 1933. His tombstone stands in the middle of the graveyard.

Others who have left loved ones here include the Lewis, Dougharty, Love, Goodwin, Jones, Hall, Jennings, Cook and McCracklin families.

As Fawil grew as a lumber town, it acquired Baptist and Methodist church congregations, who met at one time on alternating Sundays, and a Pentecostal church. Stores, doctors and other businesses were also attracted to the community.

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 more than 35 books about East Texas. He can be reached at www.bob-bowman.com ).