In the 1900s, an explosion and fire hit the old Emporia sawmill in East Texas. More than thirty sawmill workers, most who were African Amerian, perished in the fire.
The workers were burned beyond recognition and were later buried in a mass grave which is reported to be somewhere on the Emporia townsite which is now Diboll. There are very few records about the incident but the records that do exist suggest that the tragic incident occurred.
The town of Emporia began with the purchase of 5,755 acres of land north of the Neches River by Samuel Fain Carter and M.T. Jones from W.H. Bonner on November 3, 1892.
Within a year, the town had a sawmill owned by Carter and Jones, a post office, company houses, a school, a church, a store, a hotel and a railroad spur to ship lumber to the Houston, East and West Texas, the main line leading from East Texas to Houston.
Over the next two years, another sawmill owned by T.LL appeared. At its peak, Emporia had a population of about 300 with 125 employees working at the mill and with logging crews in the woods. With a daily cutting capacity of 75,000 board feet a day, the sawmill specialized in lumber for railroad cars and timbers for bridges.
There were at least two recorded fires at the sawmill. In July of 1897, the mill burned to the ground. By 1900, Emporia built a new sawmill and acquired additional timberlands in Tyler County and bought a sawmill at Doucette.
The second fire that occurred in March of 1906 and killed the thirty or so employees dealt a death blow to the town. A news article in 1904 said “water is so scarce that, in order to operate the mill, water has to be hauled from the Neches River,” a mile distant. The gravesite of the men has never been found.