Ghost Town on the Neches
By Dana Goolsby
FASTRILL- Ghost towns lie forgotten beneath the pine tree canvas of East Texas, often only marker by a Texas State Historic Marker. Take Fastrill, located near the Neches River, twelve miles south of Rusk and 15 miles west of Alto, in western Cherokee County. Most people would never know that such a thriving little logging community ever existed if it were not for the historical marker on the side of the road and the oral history passed down from generation to generation.
Fastrill, established by Southern Pine Lumber Company (SPLCo.) as a base for its logging operations in Cherokee County in 1922, took its name from combination of three names: that of a former Diboll postmaster, F. F. Farington; that of P. H. Straus, lumberman; and that of Will Hill, lumberman. At it’s height the community had a barbershop, a cleaning and pressing shop, a drugstore, a commissary, the Southern Pine office, a two-story hotel for single male workers, a wooden superintendent’s office, a four-teacher school, two churches, a post office, the Barrel House, and an approximate population of 600 people.
Four steam engines transported logs to Diboll and Maydelle from the Fastrill, and also carried loggers to and from the woods, where they worked a ten-hour day. Fastrill had water piped directly from what is known as the pump hole on the Neches River and stored in a wooden tank built on stilts. The untreated water was used by the steam engines, as well as the people of Fastrill.
Logging camps were a dime a dozen throughout the lumber industry, but were especially important to the forest products companies of East Texas during the early 20th century. Most of these camps were spread throughout the Pineywoods along the logging railroads, allowing workers to live with their families year-round, yet still be near the current stretch of forest being worked. Families lived in small houses that could be easily and quickly loaded onto railroad cars and transported to the next camp location. These camps typically stayed only a few years in each place before the timber ran out and they moved on down the railroad line.
The Southern Pine Lumber Company camp Fastrill remained a vibrant community until 1941. SPLCo. workers from Fastrill spent 6 days a week in the woods harvesting trees and loading them onto rail cars for transport to the mills in Diboll, approximately 50 miles away. Sunday was a day of rest spent at church and with family, along with swimming at the Rock Hole—the best swimming hole on the Neches River.
In 1941, new public highways offered better transportation from sparsely located timber tracts than privately operated logging railroads. SPLCo closed Fastrill and relocated most of its residents to Diboll. By 1941, when most of the Southern Pine timber was depleted, employees gradually vacated, and the post office, school, and voting precinct were closed. Shortly thereafter the town was totally evacuated.
In the 1980s the Arthur Temple Research Area on Farm Road 23 south of Rusk occupied the site of old Fastrill. An old railroad tram and a bridge across the Neches River is known to area residents as the Fastrill Bridge.
In recent years, Fastrill has received renewed attention due to a controversial proposal to dam the Neches River between Cherokee and Anderson counties, and create a water reservoir, to be named Fastrill Reservoir, in order to supply quickly growing North Texas with sufficient water.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court drained the last bit of life from the city of Dallas and Texas Water Development Board’s plan to build a massive reservoir called Lake Fastrill along the Neches. However, the US Supreme Court decided the land will become a wildlife refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The ever-thirstier cities of North Texas will have to look somewhere other than the Neches River in East Texas for their future water supplies.
Learn more about the progress of the Fastrill Wildlife Refuge HERE.