HISTORICAL – New Caney, Texas
The annual Texas Sawmill Festival took place Oct. 1 at Bull Sallas Park in New Caney with an estimated 8,000 people in attendance. The festival pays homage to days past when New Caney and East Montgomery County were home to more than 250 sawmills.
New Caney is approximately 30 miles north of Houston on U.S. 59 in southeast Montgomery County. Most of its early pioneers came to escape the ravages of the Civil War and the painful Reconstruction period that followed. Because the soils in the area were mostly sandy and not fertile enough for large farming, the settlers turned to raising cattle on the open ranges. Because the grasses were not very nutritional, it took many acres to support a herd.
In 1862 Austin Presswood and his wife, Sarah Waters Presswood, came to Texas. They purchased land in the New Caney area and raised cattle branded with “62” on the open ranges of the big thicket. The community was first known as Presswood.
Other early settlers were the John Wesley Robinson family, which also farmed and raised cattle. Robinson was born in 1819. He married Narcissa Ann Houston in Tennessee. They eventually migrated to Texas, settling in the new area on Caney Creek in the mid 1860s. During the late 1870s, the Houston, East and West Texas Railway reached the town. The new rail station was called the Caney Station. The community became a shipping point for livestock, and the town began to grow. Son James J. Robinson petitioned for a post office, and on July 7, 1882 the post office was established under the name of New Caney with Robinson becoming the first postmaster. The Robinson family was very important in early New Caney history. Besides building the gristmill, steam cotton gin, general store and post office, they donated land east of the railroad for the area’a first school.
Fortunately, trees were in abundance in the area, with dense forests of loblolly and slash pines, and New Caney began to grow with the timber industry. The thickets were the home of many bears. Bear hunting was not only a sport for hunters but also a cash crop in the form of bear grease. The bear meat was used for food and the fatty parts were rendered down or cooked similar to the way lard was rendered from hogs. This bear grease was then sold in Houston and used in making cosmetics and hair dressings. The trip to Houston to sell bear grease and other products would take about a week by wagon and horses. The 30-mile trip would consist of one day to a campsite approximately half way to Houston and then another day to complete the trip. They would spend one day in Houston to attend to the business of selling products, purchasing supplies, trading and picking up mail. Then they would make the return trip.
New Caney has continued to grow due to its proximity to Houston, the railroad and the timber industry. The bear grease industry has obviously disappeared.
The Montgomery County Historical Commission provides the content for this page.
For information on the commission and its efforts, visit montgomerycountyhistoricalcommission.com.