The once-vibrant community of Sawmill awaits its next opportunity
By Cindy Yurth
(Editor's note: In an effort to chronicle the beauty and diversity of the Navajo Nation, as well as its issues, the Navajo Times has committed to visiting all 110 chapters in alphabetical order. This is the 76th in the series. Some information for this series is taken from the publication "Chapter Images" by Larry Rodgers)
SAWMILL, Ariz., March 6, 2014
(Times photo - Cindy Yurth)
Something is different about this quiet mountain chapter set in a series of meadows high atop the Defiance Plateau.
It takes a minute to figure it out. Then it hits you: While nearly every other community on the Navajo Nation has relied on stone, brick and cinder block to construct its homes, stores and churches, here is a town entirely built out of wood.
The dilapidated clapboard houses and barns would fit right into one of the Victorian-era mining towns off the reservation. The chapter house is still heated by a voracious hand-welded wood stove. Even the Great Seal of the Navajo Nation hanging on the chapter house wall is carved out of wood.
In a metaphorical sense, too, this chapter was built on wood.
"There were people living here before the sawmill," says our guide, who must remain nameless since his boss is none too thrilled about this interview, "but the community really coalesced around the mill."
The Sawmill native (we'll call him "Kee"), who looks to be in his late 30s or early 40s, remembers when the air above Sawmill hung heavy with dust from the logging roads. But even then, the old mill was closed — the logging trucks were carrying their cargo of pine to Navajo, N.M., where the Navajo Forest Products Industry had built a new mill in 1962.
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