Hillister is located in south central Tyler County, eight miles south of Woodville along U.S. Routes 69/287. The Hillister post office as well as several businesses and churches are located near the junction of these highways with FM 1013. Hillister was one of the numerous towns that sprang up in Tyler County with the advent of the lumber industry and the railroads. William R. McCarty operated the first sawmill in Hillister and became its first postmaster in June 1882. The origin of the town’s name is a puzzle. It is probable that the town was originally deemed ‘Hollister’, after a Texas and New Orleans Railroad Company official. However another source for the name may have been two sawmill operators named Hallister. Hillister may be a misspelling or a compromise, but whatever the reason for the name, in 1882 the post office opened under the name of Hillister.
McCarty sold his mill to the Express Lumber Company ca. 1884. In 1886 the Galveston Daily News reported that some 354 carloads of lumber products had been produced in Hillister in the previous year, a moderate amount. Around 1888 the Hillister mill was sold to the Tyler County Lumber Company, and by 1890 the mill employed approximately 150 men and operated three miles of narrow-gauge tram road with one engine and fifteen log cars. By May 1891 the company was no longer profitable and entered into receivership. Attempts to return the mill to profitability failed. It is believed that the mill, land, and timber holdings were auctioned off sometime around fall 1893 and the mill dismantled and sold.
Hillister’s economy was lumber and when one mill closed another soon took its place. From the beginning to the present date, there have been five or more mills in Hillister. In 1946 mills in Hillister were still producing seventy-five cars per week of poles and piling. While the Texas Highway Department listed the community in 1985 as a railroad station, today all the tracks have been removed and trains no longer service Hillister. Woodville Lumber Company operates the one remaining sawmill in Hillister, Hillister Mill, with a capacity of 30,000 feet per day of lumber. Logs are delivered by truck to the mill; the use of tram roads and their tracks were abandoned years ago. The1890 Hillister Railroad Depot built by the Texas & New Orleans Railroad was disassembled; today it resides in Heritage Garden Village in Woodville where it was rebuilt to a smaller size using the original lumber.
The population of Hillister stayed near 100 until the early 1940s, when the town began to grow. During that decade it reached 250. Thereafter, it declined to about 200, and by the early 1980s was fifty-nine. Today Hillister is a vibrant unincorporated community with a rural economy centered on farming and ranching. Hillister is the residence of State Representative James E. White of District 19, which encompasses Polk, Hardin, Jasper, Newton, and Tyler counties. Hillister is also the home of Timberline Nursery Inc. which operates a 1.1 million square feet environmentally controlled commercial nursery. Hillister continues to have its own post office, Zip Code 77624. In 2010, 865 people were living in the rural areas serviced by this zip code.
One of the Hillister area's old squared-log structures, the Tolar home, is preserved in Woodville’s Heritage Village Museum. Built in 1866 by Robert Tolar, logs for the home were cut, squared and notched on site. The building has a "mud cat" chimney, and a roof of hand-rived shakes. Over the years, the Tolar family converted the structure to a "cook house" where three meals were cooked each day over an open fireplace until 1960. Pots were cooked "full" for travelers who "dropped in." (Texas Historical Marker #: 5457011456; Dedicated: 1964)
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Megan Biesele, "HILLISTER, TX," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hlh46), accessed May 08, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association. Lou Ella Moseley, Pioneer Days of Tyler County (Fort Worth: Miran, 1975). Kathleen E. and Clifton R. St. Clair, eds. Sawmill and Tram/Railroad Databases, Texas Forestry Museum, Lufkin, Texas. America FactFinder, Zip Code 77624, U.S. Census Bureau.