Isaac Conroe’s Sawmill

Isaac Conroe’s Sawmill

Courtesy Montgomery County History

The city of Conroe got its name from Capt. Isaac Conroe, a Union Civil War veteran who moved to southeast Texas in 1866.

At that time the town of Montgomery held the county seat, and Conroe was nothing more than a group of trees near the International and Great Northern railroad. Like many sawmill owners at the time, Isaac would operate sawmills along the railroad tracks. Once all of the lumber in the vicinity had been cut down, he would move along the tracks to establish a new sawmill.

He bought property about 2 miles east of what is modern downtown Conroe in 1881. On that site he became the town’s first postmaster and took residence in a small house at what is now First Street and Avenue A. He lived at the house, often alone, away from his wife, Margaret Richardson.

“He married Margaret, who was from Washington, D.C. Conroe was just a small sawmill community of no more than 300 people, [and]she was too refined to live there and so she lived in Houston,” said Larry Foerster, chairman of the Montgomery County Historical Commission. “They lived on Jackson Street [in Houston], and that is why they are both buried in Houston at the Glenwood Cemetery.”

In the mid-1880s the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe railway extended through the Conroe community, bringing more residents to town and leading to the establishment of the Conroe Mill School and the area’s first black school at Madeley Quarters, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

In May 1889 several business owners in Conroe and the nearby town of Willis created a petition to move the county seat from Montgomery to the community of Conroe. That year an election was held, and the county seat was officially moved, Foerster said. Isaac’s house served as the first temporary courthouse until a permanent one was built in 1891.

Additional growth on the west side of the railroad tracks was spurred by another early notable Conroe resident, J.K. Ayres, who was also a sawmill businessman, Foerster said. Ayres bought a large tract of land west of Isaac’s homestead, platted it and donated two blocks for county use: one for the courthouse, where it is located today, and another for the county jail. The jail site now houses the Conroe Tower and City Hall.

“They were both brick buildings with Romanesque architecture,” Foerster said. “[The buildings] were very attractive and stood until torn down in 1935 for the construction of the new courthouse, which is the one we have today.”

The city population grew to nearly 500 residents in 1892 and had five steam-powered saw and planing mills, a cotton gin, gristmill, hotels and general stores. Conroe ISD was also established that year.

An election was held in December 1904 to incorporate Conroe into a town, and in January 1905 the first mayor and city council were elected, Foerster said.

The city estimates its a 71,592 resident population as of 2014.

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