Beaumont’s Big Business

Galveston Daily News, February 15, 1888

Reprint Compiled by W. T. Block

(pub. Texas Gulf Historical & Biographical Record, Vol. XIII, No. 1, Nov. 1977, pp 84-90.  W. T. Block, editor--scanning and web conversion by Mr. Tom Cloud)

I reached this great saw mill city and lumber mart yesterday [February 10, 1888] and found that the drought had not visited the County of Jefferson recently.  The rich black mud, that allowed the wagons to go down half-way to the hubs, told of the probabilities of the land if only tickled by the hoe.  In my sauntering I brought up face to face with Mr. Mark Wiess, whose countenance wears a perpetual smile.  He suggested that we visit the mills, and we started out by first exploring the intricacies of the great Reliance mill, one of the best managed mills this side of Michigan.  Upon first entering the building my astonished gaze met such a whirl of machinery that I could hardly make up my mind that I had not discovered Dante’s dark region, and looked for the warning: “He that enters here leaves hope behind.”  Mr. Wiess led me safely through, but I was right glad to be able to inventory as many arms and legs at the end as when we started.

This mill is owned by the Wiess Brothers and Mr. H. W. Potter, all of whom are known to every lumber dealer this side of the Great Lakes.  Its capacity is 20,000,000 feet a year.  They have a Reynolds-Corliss engine, diameter twenty-two inches, stroke forty-two inches, and a sixteen foot driving wheel, thirty-one inch face, and is claimed to be one of the finest and best pieces of work ever put in a mill.  The saw mill is a double rotary, with improved steam feed, powerful ‘steam nigger’ for turning logs, live rollers, edgers, trimmers, sizer, and automatic slab chain that dumps the waste across a wide bayou into a heap where it is burned.  E. P. Allis and Co. of Milwaukee constructed all except the slab chain, and no manufacturer claims to lead them in modem improvements on engines or sawmills.  Four steam boilers, each 42 inches in diameter, by 26 feet in length, with two 16-inch flues, supply abundant steam to run this great pile of machinery, enabling them to give quick delivery on all orders.  They are now furnishing large quantities of construction material to the Fort Worth and Denver, Houston and Texas Central, Mexican National, Missouri Pacific, and Southern Pacific railroads.

Their planning mill can dress 75,000 feet per day, while their dryer will thoroughly season 20,000 feet of inch boards every twenty-four hours.  They also run a manufactory, where they manufacture large quantities of doors, sash, stair rails, balusters, handsome office desks, tables, etc.  They also make a specialty of Bagdad [picket] fence that is now being much sought after.  They have boomage for 10,000,000 feet of logs and own 20,000 acres of the finest long leaf pine lands.  Mr. William Wiess is general superintendent and Mr. V. Wiess financier.  They are putting in a fine system of waterworks which ought to reduce their insurance, They are running a four-inch water main to every part of the mill, yards, and planer, with ten double-hosed hydrants and this, with an abundance of hose should place the risk at the lowest minimum.

The interior of their office is a marvel of beauty.  It is finished up with native woods, and plainly suggests to the coming architect that when he goes beyond the borders of own state for fine grained or lovely faces in lumber to give rich effect, it is a clear case of pure ignorance.  Had those lawyers at Austin, who debated so long about the finish to be used in the capitol, only visited this piece of work, the people’s money would have been more wisely invested, all apprehension dismissed, and the critics silenced.  To Mr. W. A. Priddie, the secretary, and to Mr. A. DeHebecourt, bookkeeper, we are indebted for sundry courtesies.

The Beaumont Lumber Company is composed of fresh, young, Texas-raised blood, and proves to mankind that it is well to grow up in a new country.  F. L. Carroll, president, G. W. Carroll, vice president, and John Gilbert, secretary and treasurer, are the officers, all raised here, and men better versed in their business are nowhere to be found.  They know how to gain customers and how to hold them.  There is a streak of Quaker blood in them, and no man questions their integrity.  Their mill has a capacity of 60,000 feet per day, and their planer can put through 50,000 feet in the same time.  They are always on the alert for anything new in machinery that will enhance the value of their lumber or reduce the expense of making it, and they aim more at giving the very best quality of lumber to their customers than to announcing big dividends to the stockholders.  On this foundation they have raised a character that sells their product as fast as they can ship it.  They sold 35,000,000 feet last year, and more would have been sold had the railroads provided transportation.  With never less than 5,000,000 feet of dry stock on hand, dealers may safely rely upon prompt dispatch of all orders.  They make pickets and moldings equal to the best made anywhere of all kinds.

Owning a large line of railroad fully-equipped and landing their .logs in tide water daily, they are prepared to take orders for dimension lengths cut and ship same the year round, on shorter notice than any mill not similarly provided.  They have a paid up capital of $239,000.  Two of Prescott’s steam feeders are en route from the factory for their mills, which, added to their present capacity, will largely increase their facilities, They only cut long leaf pine and cypress, and the value of both is attested to by the eagerness with which the various railroads take up all that can be utilized in their work.  Their business is increasing year by year, and as it has outgrown its old quarters and greater conveniences are demanded for offices and for the extensive mercantile interests of the firm, they have just contracted for the construction of a very large and convenient store and warehouse.  They do not advertise this branch of their business as strictly cooperative, yet they sell to their employees on so close a margin that their hands cannot afford to buy at any other store.  Hence with fair dealing, liberal wages, and prompt pay, no strike has ever been contemplated by their men.

The managers of this firm are made up of the right kind of timber to insure the prosperity of any country, and if by any honorable means, men of like character, who are located in cold, drought-stricken, or over-populated countries, can be induced to visit this county or to write to the gentlemen whose names appear in this communication, they will ascertain that there is still room for them, with far better prospects now for success, than when the present successful men of Jefferson County commenced.

James Long, deceased, laid the foundation of the colossal shingle firm of the Long Manufacturing Company of this place twenty years ago.  Being a pioneer in the sawed shingle business of the South, Mr. Long’s quick perception told him that the public wanted a better article than was then to be had, and he set himself about producing something that would rival any brand on the market.  To do this required expensive machinery and of a kind new to this country; to introduce which would entail the additional expense of imported skilled labor from far-away Michigan.  This did not deter him; he put in the machinery, sent for men familiar with its use, and commenced the manufacture of his “O. K.” brand of cypress shingles, which the dealers at once took to, for, as the name implied, the shingles sold under that brand were really O. K., every shingle being perfect, and made of selected timber.  They at once took their place at the head of the list and became the standard by which all cypress shingles sold in any part of Texas were graded.  The quality of the shingles has never deteriorated.

The old firm of Long and Company was merged into the present firm of the Long Manufacturing Company, but the-stockholders were the same and the management was not changed, more than the continued growth of the business made necessary.  W. A. Fletcher, president, and John W. Keith, vice president, are too well known to the trade to require any mention here.  They were both quite young at the time they entered the employ of the late Mr. James Long, away back in the sixties.  They were tutored to believe that “he who would be a farmer, he must hold the plow himself.”  They familiarized themselves with every part of the work in the mill and in the office, and later in the field.  No men know better than they what was required to satisfy the trade, and to that end, they bent all of their energies.  The last success of the firm has been their merited reward.

Mr. John L. Keith, the secretary and treasurer, is a young man full of promise, to the manner born and every way worthy to succeed to a higher place when time is called on those above him.  I have traveled over Texas for years and I have heard of their shingles at almost every point I have visited.  Their dimension shingles are the standard today, and will be as long as the mill is owned by the Long Manufacturing Company.  They claim to have made and sold during the past 20 years more shingles than any manufacturer doing business in the state.  The annual cut has for years averaged 36,000,000 shingles.  Mr. J. W. Keith will send his photograph to the first boy or girl, under 12 years of age, that will write him how many miles these shingles would reach if placed end to end, each shingle 16 inches long, 20 years work, 36,000,000 a year.  It is easy; try it, and you will be delighted with the picture.

A feature of their business that should be imitated by every other large establishment is that any of the employees can put all of their savings into the stock of the company, but no one else can buy it at any price.  This guarantees the most faithful service, as well as watchful care that the reputation of the shingles is maintained.

One of the most useful men of this part of the state is Mr. V. Wiess.  Though self-made, he is a refined, polished, and well-read gentleman.  In connection with a large wholesale and retail grocery business, he conducts an extensive banking business and at the same time acts as agent for thirteen of the standard fire insurance companies doing business in Texas.  Mr. S. Lederer is at the head of the grocery department.  Over Mr. Wiess’ bank is the office of the East Texas and Louisiana Lumber Association, of which Mr. V. Wiess is the president.  The room is tastefully finished in native woods, and is well worthy of a visit.  It is here that the mill men along the lines of the Southern Pacific and the Sabine and East Texas railroads meet to debate knotty questions that constantly spring themselves upon the manufacturers.

The Texas Tram and Lumber Company of this city is one of the solid and enterprising institutions of Southeast Texas, having over a half million dollars in hard cash invested in its business, and under its present management is expanding and lending a helping hand to the development of this entire section.  The officers of this company are W. A. Fletcher, president and general manager; John W. Keith, vice president and treasurer; S. F. Carter, secretary and business manager.  This company has a saw mill with a capacity of 40,000,000 feet of lumber per annum, while its planning mill capacity is 25,000,000 feet.  They own between 75,000 and 100,000 acres of long leaf yellow pine lands, from which they supply their mills with the best quality of logs.  They have built some eighteen miles of narrow-gauge railroad, using thirty-five pound iron and steel rails, and have three more miles of steel rails ordered, which will give them twenty-one miles of track.  They have equipped their road with four first-class, narrow-gauge locomotives and an ample supply of cars to enable them to log their mills successfully.  Their Beaumont mill is acknowledged to be one of the finest and best-equipped saw mills in the South, from which they turn out large quantities of lumber, consisting of railroad timbers and dimension, rough, sized, and dressed.

They also own and operate the famous Village Mills, located on the Sabine and East Texas Railway, thirty-five miles north of Beaumont, at which point they have a first-class saw mill, extensive planning mills, and Chicago dry kilns.  They likewise manufacture and ship from these mills large quantities of rough and dressed lumber, consisting of railroad timbers, sized dimension, flooring, ceiling, siding, pickets, moldings, and, in fact, anything required by the extensive trade they supply.  The operations of Village Mills are under the direct super-vision of Mr. Frank Keith, a member of the firm, and one of the rising and most thorough young mill men of the South, while its business affairs are transacted through the head office at Beaumont.

The shipments of the Texas Tram and Lumber Company for 1887 amounted to over 35,000,000 feet, and had it not been for the great scarcity of cars that prevailed during the year, they would have shipped over 40,000,000 feet.  Their shipments during the past year have taken a broader scope than ever before, and have reached out of Texas into Old Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, etc.  They find that wherever long leaf yellow pine is introduced, it gains a strong foothold and takes the lead in every market where it has an equal show in freight rates.  It is peculiarly adapted to railroad building, as is evidenced by the large quantities of bridge timber and ties that are shipped from this section to the different roads throughout the country.  The facilities of the Texas Tram and Lumber Company for handling large contracts of this nature are surpassed by none and equaled by few.

On September 1, 1887, they had contracts for railroad timbers and ties amounting in round numbers to 15,000,000 feet, and by January 1 just passed they had finished more than two-thirds of the contracts mentioned, besides taking care of their hundreds of customers engaged in the retail lumber business.  They give employment to some 500 or 600 men at fair wages, and there has never yet been a strike among their employees.  In addition to their immense lumber business, they also deal extensively in merchandise, handling close on to a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of goods at their different stores during the year.  It is plain to see that such a firm is not only a great benefit to the line of road it is located on, but is quite an important factor in developing the section of country in which it may operate.  The management of this company are live, wide awake businessmen, and while they do not hesitate to keep up with the onward march of progress, they are at the same time prudent and conservative, study closely all matters pertaining to the lumber industry, and are justly recognized as among the leading and most level-headed lumbermen in the country.

The Beaumont Pasture Company is another institution of Jefferson County that deserves mention.  It was organized in 1887 and reorganized in 1888.  William McFaddin, V. Wiess, W. W. Kyle, and W. P. H. McFaddin own 60,000 acres in this enclosure and have it well stocked with cattle, and so completely surrounded by water that barely nine miles of wire is required to complete the enclosure.  The grasses embrace every variety indigenous to our soil, and as they allow six acres to the head, the stand is very fine.  Although there is some sea marsh in it which furnishes very nutritious winter range, nine-tenths of their land is tillable, producing fine corn, cotton, cane, and all kinds of vegetables.  There are 1,000 orange trees on it that will soon bear.  They are crossing their best cows with Hereford and imported Brahman bulls.  The annual brand of calves compares favorably with the best locations in the state.  This company also has 2,200 two and three-year old steers in Greer County.

An old law firm here is O’Brien and John.  The former has resided here since long before the late war and has a state reputation.  He was urged to run for congress at the last election, ‘but steadfastly refused to allow his name to go before the convention.  Mr. John is the much respected mayor of Beaumont.  The firm is familiar with every land title in this part of Texas, and can give good advice to those wishing to locate in this county.

The Beaumont Iron Works Company, under the immediate super-vision of J. J. Crichion, president; E. C. Ogden, secretary and treasurer, is one of the most important foundries in Eastern Texas.  It is well-equipped with every modem appliance for making and finishing castings, as well as heavy wrought iron work, and has a large business along the railroads.  The mills at Orange, Lake Charles, and this place speak very highly of the work turned out at this shop.

E. Solinsky is a wide awake merchant, who by dint of fair dealing, close profits, and closer collections, has amassed quite a neat fortune.  He is proud of his city and is always ready to aid in any enterprise that will lead to the good of the town.  Beaumont boasts of a water works system that will be of immense value in case of fire.  The standpipe is 140 feet high and being on elevated ground will throw water over the tallest structure in the city. (Galveston Daily News, February 15, 1888)

At left is an image of the letterhead stationery of the Reliance Lumber Company at the turn of the century. It is a letter from William Wiess to his sister, Pauline Wiess Coffin, dated July 29, 1901. Click on the image to see a magnified view.

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