A day trip traveling north from Houston takes you down memory lane to the historic city that is Conroe, Texas. Conroe was established after the Civil War when a retired Illinois Cavalry captain came to Texas, hoping to make his mark in the lumber industry. His mark created an enduring legacy.
How a Lumberman Pioneered a City
On Oct. 16, 1881, a retired Civil War Illinois Calvary captain came into Montgomery County from Houston looking for a place to make his mark. His name was Isaac Conroe.
In time, Conroe bought a tract of land and established a sawmill about two miles east of the present town that bears his name. It was merely a forest, but that is part of what initially drew Conroe. His first mill was east of the I&GN Railroad and between the Santa Fe tracks and what is now Avenue A. He built a tram of wooden rails and spokes to transport his lumber products to the I&GN.
A post office was soon established there and Conroe served as the first postmaster. The captain continued living in Houston and commuted back and forth on the I&GN. A railroad official suggested making the new mill site a regular stop and gave it the name "Conroe's Switch." Printed rail tickets said "Conroe's Switch to ." The name was shortened to "Conroe's" and then simply to "Conroe."
Lumbering brought prosperity to Conroe. The going wage in those days was $1 to $2.50 a day. The railroads made transporting lumber goods to market an easier task and many mills sprouted up. The sawmills caused new families to move into the area and the town thrived.
In 1886, local citizens used rough lumber and homemade desks to establish Conroe's first one-room public school near the present community of Beach. Open each year for a five-month term, the Conroe Mill School educated mostly children of mill workers.
Despite several epidemics and two disastrous fires, the town continued growing. An unofficial 1889 count showed a population of 250 to 300 citizens. Increasing lumber industry expansion and the accompanying population growth demanded more school space. In 1900, Conroe got its first four-room painted school built near the 300 block of Murray Street. In December 1904, the city was officially incorporated. J. F. Collier was the first mayor.
In the final analysis of what made "Conroe's Switch" boom rather than bust, historians write that only the oil industry ranks above timber and the lumber business in importance here. The rail crossroads helped build Conroe, and Isaac Conroe left his mark.