Fairmont is historically remembered as a tobacco town, the preeminent one in southeastern North Carolina. Timber, though, gave this community a jump start at the beginning of the twentieth century. Starting with South Eastern Lumber Company in 1898 and continuing with the Beaufort County Lumber Company in 1909, our little town shipped trainloads of lumber to northern markets for more than twenty-five years. First as logs and later as cut, dried lumber, this was Fairmont's first industry.
In 1897 prior to the arrival of the Southeastern Railroad and the South Eastern Lumber Company, the unincorporated village of Ashpole had a population of less than fifty people. The 1900 census, taken one and one-half years after their arrival, showed Union City with a population of 432. The vast majority of this increase was directly attributable to the timber industry.
Several prominent people arrived at this time. They included A. L. Jones, part owner and manager of South Eastern Lumber Company, Francis C. Jones, conductor for the Southeastern Railroad and Elijah Fisher, depot agent for the Southeastern Railroad. Each of these men figured prominently in the community for the next twenty-five years.
The momentum in timber continued as South Eastern Lumber Company sold property and timber leases to the Beaufort County Lumber Company in 1910. The population jumped to 730 in 1910 and then to 1000 in 1920, which did not include the unincorporated area "company town" of North Fairmont.
Prominent people who arrived with this company included Alexander Baker, civil engineer for the company; George Cole, company accountant; Dr. Linwood Ricks, company doctor and D. C. Lassiter, engineer for the company logging train. These gentlemen chose to remain in the community after the company moved to Columbus County in 1925.
At the peak of its operation, Beaufort County Lumber Company employed more than 400 people. They had more than fifty buildings that they owned, either employee housing or company operating structures. Their move in 1925 was a big blow to Fairmont and its economy. We were fortunate that the tobacco market had grown to the point where it could employee many who lost their jobs with the lumber company.