Nona Mills Lumber Company

When the Kansas City Southern Railroad reached Leesville in 1897, it brought a tremendous boom to the area. Lumber barons around the country saw the opportunity and began buying acres of land covered with prime virgin pine. The Nona Mills Lumber Company, organized in 1898 in Nona, Texas, established their Leesville mill in 1899. Rather than build their own town as did most lumber companies moving to the area, Nona Mills built homes for their employees near the already existing town and made improvements where they could. The young city of Leesville immediately began expanding, and by 1900 the small town had ten general stores, four drug stores, at least four hotels, several doctors and lawyers, and a host of other businesses.

Ahead of its time in many ways, the progressive company employed two women who worked inside the corporate office. When Methodist and black workers found that churches where they could worship were too distant for their liking, the Nona Mills Company built the Leesville Methodist Episcopal Church South (known today as the First United Methodist Church) for the white Methodist workers, and the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church for the black workers, many of whom were brought with the company from Beaumont. They sponsored the town’s brass band and baseball team, the Leesville White Sox of the Yellow Pine Sawmill League; built an ice plant, as well as the city’s first public swimming pool, called the Natatorium.

In 1907, after a fire destroyed many of the businesses in the city, Nona Mills built a new waterworks and fire department, and even paid the wages for two full time fire fighters for a year. During a financial panic that same year, the mill reduced man-hours and kept all its employees working when it could have shut down, as many did, and saved itself some money.

At its height, the mill itself was capable of cutting 100,000 feet daily with a dry kiln capacity of 25,000 feet per day. The mill was powered by a 350-hp steam engine which turned a 72” circular saw plus other auxiliary saws..In 1904, the Nona Mills Company paid out $15,000 in monthly wages to its 370 loggers and mill hands. They shipped 22,000,000 feet of lumber and still had a 5,000,000 feet reserve drying on the yard.

By the late twenties and early thirties, most of the timber in Vernon Parish had been cut. “Cut and get out” was the motto for most of the mills, who simply abandoned their towns and moved out of Louisiana. The interesting thing about the Nona Mills Company was that nearly all the Nona Mills families stayed in Leesville and continued to play roles in community life. Many of their descendents remain today.

Reminders of the mill can be found in buildings scattered throughout the city of Leesville. Located on Third Street in the Leesville National Register Historic District are several -- the former R & S Grocery originally built as the corporate office for the mill, as well as two built by George R. Ferguson, General Manager of the mill -- the old Vernon Bank building and the famous “Red Hound Bar”, originally built to house the U.S. Post Office. Two large, late Victorian homes that were built for mill families survive today – the G.R. Ferguson home located on Hwy. 171 across from the Vernon Bank and the Booker-Lewis House located on North Street, built for Mr. H.T. Booker, bookkeeper at the Nona Mills Company.

"Gateway to the Pineys: A Glimpse of Leesville, La Between 1905 and 1908" by W.T. Block