Stephen F. Austin State University

Deweyville (Possum Bluff or Drake's Landing) August 2019

Deweyville (Possum Bluff or Drake's Landing)

by Jonnie Miller, Newton County History Center

Deweyville has been called all of these names at one time. It is one of three towns in Newton County. Newton is the county seat, and Burkeville is at the northern end of the county. There are more communities, but these are the main towns. Newton county is a long, narrow county on the border of Louisiana.

Deweyville is forty miles from the courthouse in Newton but only about 10-15 miles from Orange. It was established in about 1900 when the Sabine Tram Company built a sawmill there. Actually, it may have an earlier beginning when it was known as Drake's Landing. It became known as Possum Bluff due to an abundance of the little critters in the area and as later named Deweyville to honor Admiral Dewey.

The Sabine Tram Co.'s mill was located on a bend in the Sabine River with convenient access to both timber and the river so that logs could be floated down.

The mill was sold in 1919 to Peavy Moore who operated it until 1942 when it was sold again. Rumor has it that Jean Lafitte used to put in at what became Deweyville when he traveled the river.

The sawmill owners purchased 160 acres from Pierre Peter Lavine when he traded a team of oxen for it. In the early days there were bears and panthers as well as possums in the area and farmers often shot them to protect their crops. As people moved in the bigger animals did not venture from the swamps. The "Neches Bell" also traveled the river and made stops at Deweyville.

The land now that includes Deweyville proper was the domain of the sawmill company and the company ruled the entire community. Railroad tracks for the tram were laid by employees of the mill and the houses, stores, schools and church were also built by employees. Company officials ruled over everything, even how to run the school.

At one point a bond issue was proposed to build a new school. Not only did the company object but fired some of the foremen who supported the issue. The proposal failed and the company built the school.

Although the church belonged to the company, the preacher's salaries were paid by the congregation. Baptist and Methodist preachers alternated Sundays and everyone went to church and everyone had communion together-a true Christian community.

"Papa Cecil" Smythe, super of the mill, was in charge of the community as well. Law was enforced by "Quarter Bosses" with the agreement of the County Sheriff. The area was dry but bootleg whiskey was plentiful especially on Saturday night.

The make-up of the town included whites, Mexicans, and African-Americans. The population was about the same for all three towns which were fairly large for that time.

Mill hours were ten a day and pay was $1.50 a day. Christmas brought a bonus of a $5.00 or $10.00 gold piece depending on length of employment. Company officials played Santa Claus with each child getting a toy and fruit.

Shuttle trains ran between Deweyville and Ruliff where the company provided a section house and rooming house for the trainmen. River traffic was abundant so, to accommodate the traffic, the railroad company had to build a movable span and hire a man to open and close the bridge, a bridge tender. The tender flagged the trains over the bridge if the river traffic was clear.

In 1938 the bridge across the Sabine River was opened. The first blacktopped road was the Evangeline Highway connecting Baton Rouge to Beaumont. The hardwood milled burned in 1942 and most of the population moved out. The planer mill burned in 1944 leaving the community almost a ghost town. The population dropped from about 2,500 to a few families.

The advent of the oil, gas, and chemical companies in the area helped keep it from completely fading away as some used it as a bedroom community commuting back and forth to Beaumont or Lake Charles. Fishing camps and recreation sites drew vacationers and the population has regained much of its strength and numbers.