KILGORE — The East Texas Oil Museum is offering its own twist on a “ghost” story.
“Digging up East Texas Ghost Town History,” is a collection of historical artifacts discovered at the sites of East Texas ghost towns, many of which sprung up more than 100 years ago as sawmills and lumber camps. The exhibit is on display at the museum through Nov. 23.
The artifacts were uncovered and preserved by Terry Smith, a member of Relic Hunters of Texas.
“(Smith) goes to abandoned ghost town lumber camps with permission of the property owner and they find relics from the lumber camps,” said Olivia Moore, museum director.
Moore said museum staff first met Smith at a convention in Carthage. His passion for finding historical relics from East Texas lumber camps meshed well with the museum’s mission of preserving the history of the East Texas Oil Boom.
“It was one of those perfect-match type things,” Moore said. “Of course, the lumber was the boom before the oil boom.”
Workers and lumber barons profited from the East Texas lumber industry from before the time of the Texas Revolution until the Great Depression began in 1929, according to the Texas State Historical Association. The vast, dense pine forests of the region were well-suited to the growing industry, which supplied local and national industries eager for more lumber.
Just as Kilgore grew rapidly after “Dad” Joiner struck black gold with the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well in October 1930, many towns expanded seemingly overnight at the sites of lumber camps and sawmills.
The people who lived in those towns were often paid in tokens or slips they could exchange at the local company store for goods and supplies. Such tokens, along with items residents used in their daily lives, make up the majority of items on display in the museum exhibit.
“(Smith) has an extensive collection of about 20,000 relics, but he has narrowed it down to specifically East Texas, and this is from about six or seven ghost town lumber camps in the area, all the way down to Lufkin and all the way up to Texarkana. It’s a big path through East Texas,” Moore said.
The exhibit includes pay tokens, personal items like combs and buttons, soda bottles and makeup jars. Guests can even spot a few familiar brand names among the collections such as Pond’s makeup containers and glass bottles that once held Clorox products. Some of the tokens are marked with the good for which they could be exchanged, such as ice or meat. Many of the items provide an insight into what life was like for the “everyday people” who made their living in East Texas lumber towns, whether they were buying food, beauty items or tools.
“Most of the lumber camp ghost town items that are here are from about 1875 through about 1920. It’s a big time frame, right up to where the rest of the museum takes over in 1930,” Moore said.
The exhibit also includes folk art murals by artist Ray Smith, which were completed about 20 years ago.
“The folk art murals are depicting what a lumber camp would have looked like. You have the trains with the logs, you have the sawmills and then you have the company store. A lot of the relics that they find are from company stores or would have been purchased at company stores,” Moore said.
Moore said many of the people who have viewed the exhibit have a connection to the lumber industry, either through their current employment or through a family member or ancestor.
“Once they see the parts, they have a connection. It connects us to the past,” she said.