The Steely family first began sawmilling in 1896...
A segment from W. T. Block's "East Texas Mill Towns & Ghost Towns: Volume 3":
One of the remarkable factors about Walker County sawmilling is the story of four generations of Steely family members, who have been samillers there for a century. The progenitor was Andrew Hutcheson Steely, whose son, Willie Arnold Steely followed in his father's footsteps. In turn, Will Steely's son, Andrew Arnold Steely, continued the mill after 1960, including relocating it in Huntsville in 1962, and today, Kelvin Steely, great grandson of "Hutch" Steely, is the present owner and president.
Born in Mississippi in 1864, A. H. "Hutch" Steely grew up in Houston County before settling in the Phelps area in 1889. In 1891, Andrew H. Steely and his fiancée, Boarded an IGN train bound for Crockett from Barrett's Switch, located between Phelps and Kelly's Switch. The writer wonders perhaps if Hutch Steely may have cut his sawmilling "eyeteeth" at B. D. Cline's earliest mill at Barrett's Switch in 1891. Until 1896, A. H. Steely resided in Houston, When he and wife moved back to Huntsville in 1896 to buy a sawmill and a boarding house. For a time they also operated the Pine Valley post office.
Apparently, A. H. Steely operated his sawmill at Phelps until his death on October 29, 1929. In May, 1919, Andrew Steely mortgaged to George Dilley Machine Company “one Curtis Dixie ‘E’ sawmill, husk, mandrel, carriage and feed works, Knight standard dogs, 4 sets of trucks, 130’ of wire rope, one 56” solid tooth circular saw…located on an 80 acre tract sold to A. H. Steely and G. W. Johnson, a part of the B. B. Goodrich league…” In January, 1920, Steely mortgaged to Huntsville State Bank “all buildings, machinery, boilers, engines, saws, etc. located 5 miles southeast of Huntsville…” As of 1928, the Steely sawmill was cutting 15,00 feet daily of pine and hardwood; employing from 20 to 25 loggers and mill hands; and utilizing two Arkansas dry kilns.
After Hutch Steely’s death in 1929, his son, Will A. Steely, continued sawmill operations interspersed with farming and logging. The decade which followed was the Great Depression, which was marked in 1931 by a sudden 1/3 drop in retail prices which was less than production costs. In 1941, Will Steely was critically burned, and nearly lost the use of one arm. Also in that year, he closed the mill and moved to Houston, where he worked as a longshoreman and port official until World War II ended. Late in 1945, he moved back to Phelps and reopened the mill. The latter sold the sawmill to his son, Andrew Arnold Steely, in 1960. Will Steely retired at that time and died in 1975. The mill stayed at Phelps until 1962, when it was moved to its present site on Southwood Drive in Huntsville.
In 1983, Kelvin Steely bought out the sawmill and still remains its owner and president. A 1987 sawmill directory reported Steely Lumber Company manufactured 45,000 feet daily of rough and dressed lumber, shavings, chips, fence material and roof decking, using one debarker, a single band headrig, a circular headrig, a cant gang-edger, 1 board edger, 2 trimmers, and a planing mill. A 1994 update from Kelvin Steely to the writer observed that the Steely Sawmill at Huntsville produces 18,000,000 feet annually of 1” and 5/4” lumber and employs 45 mill workers. The plant equipment now includes one debarker, cut-up deck, circular saw, double-cutting carriage, one gang edger, dry kilns, planing mill, and one drop sorter-stacker.
The Past 10 Years
The Goal is Efficiency...
...which has brought Steely Lumber Company to where they are today. The first hundred years was more a story of survival and establishment, while the past ten has been of growth and efficiency. Steely Lumber Company has grown in land base, owning over 6000 acres in Walker and surrounding counties. We have grown in production, moving from the 18,000 to 20,000 mbf in the mid-90's to approximately 40,000mbf in 2005. We have grown in employment, now employing approximately 75 individuals. We have increased efficiency considerably, adding three pieces of optimization in the past five years. We have also diversified by adding a sister company in Landscapers Pride (www.landscaperspride.com) allowing an outlet for much of the mills by-product.