Bowie Lumber Company at Bowie, Louisiana, in 1905; excerpts from American Lumberman magazine.  
Source: American Lumberman. "A Journey through the Vast Downman Cypress Interests with Camera and Pen", American Lumberman, Aug 5, 1905 pp.43-82. Chicago: American Lumberman, 1905.

Bowie, La., is situated forty-one miles from New Orleans on the Southern Pacific road, has Western Union telegraph and Wells-Fargo express, and has 1,250 inhabitants.

At Bowie is located the Bowie Lumber Company, Limited, successor to the estate of William Cameron, manufacturer of Louisiana red cypress lumber, shingles and lath, sash, doors, blinds, flooring, ceiling, siding, molding etc. and sawn and hewn timbers and ties.

The officers of this company are R. H. Down- man, president and general manager; Sam R. Ely, assistant general manager; Frederick H. Lewis, vice president, and J. F. Wigginton, secretary, treasurer and manager.

Early History.
Bowie stands today primarily as a monument to the erudition and foresight of William Cameron persisted in against all kinds of opposition and oceans of advice which almost any other man would have taken.

William Cameron made his first purchases of land there early in 1895 and from several interests. These purchases amounted to about 25,000 acres. This first purchase of course has been added to until the holdings now amount to 60,000 acres all told, 20,000 acres of which is still covered with virgin cypress forest.

This was the first attempt in cypress history to log a low swamp cypress brake by rail. The number of years that this has been done successfully and the number of years of lumbering that are yet to come to Bowie are all the evidence necessary to prove that the projector was correct in his ideas.

Many Mill Improvements.
Since 1895 the company has cut over 27,500 acres of cypress land and has produced and marketed 260,000,000 feet of cypress lumber, about 12,500 acres of the possessions being plantation lands.

At the very inception of the business was built the magnificent double band mill yet doing business at that point. This was one of the first great double band mills used in cypress lumber manufacture.

William Cameron remained personally in charge of the plant until July, 1897, at which time the late T. Gordon Reddy became manager, and great improvements were made under his management in the building up of the town and the providing of better accommodations for the men. Not much was added to the plant during his regime, but outside affairs were very much improved; the dry kilns were installed and commodious storage sheds built, with extensive runways for the more economical handling of the product. Additions were made to the hotel and store buildings during that time. Mr. Reddy did much toward systematizing the operations and also establishing and maintaining good order in the town—not a difficult task with the easy going and well disposed mill employees.

T. Gordon Reddy died in January, 1901, and just before that time the company was incorporated as the Bowie Lumber Company, Limited.

Bowie Timber and Lands.
The timber of the company is all located in LaFourche parish, the timber now ahead of the mill being the finest the Bowie Lumber Company, Limited, has ever owned.

Many of the high places in the swamps are high enough and suitable for cultivation. It is necessary to dredge some of the land to get the timber and the dredging acts as drainage to the other parts as well. The LaFourche levee board has put in a large number of drainage canals, notably a canal from Lake Boeuf to Bayou LaFourche, with the double purpose of securing drainage and putting fresh water in the bayou. The Bowie lands are considered of great value by the company and will be held for future development.

Woods Operations at Bowie.
The woods operations of the Bowie Lumber Company are the largest of any in connection with the Downman possessions. The logs are put in by seven skidders and pullboats all told and are transported by railroad and by water to the log pond, illustrations of which are given.

The pullboats are used as pullboats elsewhere in the cypress section to take up scattered timber at remote places where it is not feasible to build railroad tracks. The skidders are operated on the branch lines, which are placed at regular distances of 1,400 feet, the skidders pulling from each side a distance of 700 feet.

There is one logging camp four and a half miles out at Coteau, where a store and machine shop, a school house, many lodging houses, boarding house and the homes of several of the logging crew are maintained.

In logs it is aimed to store up always in the log pond about 1,000,000 feet and as much as 2,000,000 feet -- oft times of pullboat timber -- in Bayou Boeuf at the hoist where the loading on the cars is done.

Hauling Logs to the Mill.
Most of the logs are brought in over the Bowie, LaFourche & Northwestern railroad, which is a standard gage, using 60-pound rail. A great deal of this line is ballasted with sawdust; part of it is trestle track, built on piling. This is the perfected road which was begun by William Cameron and has been largely built by first throwing in brush, poles etc. along the right of way for a mattress for the sawdust and top ballast. The logs are brought in and dumped automatically into a made pond which holds over 1,000,000 feet.

A deep water canal is dredged from Bowie to Lake Boeuf, where the logs are towed to the mill and hoisted into this same pond by a steam derrick.

The Bowie, LaFourche & Northwestern road, plus the tracks in the yard at Bowie, constitutes a railway 12-1/2 miles in extent. The log cars at Bowie are sixty-six in number. There are all told four locomotives in commission. Along the line of the railway are two pile drivers in commission.

The camp and house boats of the Bowie Lumber Company are six in number. The company owns no steamboats. It has one tugboat, two sinkerboats and one woodboat in commission.

The Saw Mill at Bowie.
The saw mill at Bowie was built in 1895 and originally contained two McDonough band mills. Since then 12-inch shotgun feeds have been put in in each case, the carriages equipped with friction set works and a Filer & Stowell mill put in on one side, while one of the mills is yet a McDonough and doing fine service. The Filer & Stowell mill is a 9-foot Star band. The daily capacity of the saw mill is 150,000 feet of lumber, 350,000 shingles and 50,000 lath. The mill building is a 2-story affair and stands east and west in general direction and is built very heavy.
The lumber and slabs are carried away by live rolls to the edger, thence over the trimmer and on conveyors into the sorting shed. The slabs are carried through the slasher and cut into 4-foot lengths for use in the shingle and lath mill and practically all refuse is utilized. Some of this is ground up through a hog for fuel and some of it is utilized as ballast for the railroads.

There is one double edger and trimmer on the saw floor which trims up to twenty- four feet. In the mill on the saw floor is a 10-blocker Challoner shingle machine and one hand machine and on the lower floor is a Challoner spaulting machine. On the saw mill floor is a lath mill equipment capable of making 65,000 lath daily.

In the Boiler House.
To the north of the saw mill is the boiler house, built of brick with a metallic roof and cement floor, practically fireproof. It contains eight boilers, generating, all told, 1,000 horsepower.

This power is transmitted by a Corliss engine, size 24x48. The engine room is to the east and adjoining the boiler room.

In the boiler house are two pumps—one 6x10x12 and one 4-1/2x10x12. These pumps are attached to the water mains also to be used in case of the main fire pumps being found out of commission.

Stock and Shipping at Bowie.
The lumber is sorted from the mill conveyor and a large portion is sent to the dry kilns by the overhead trams and by mule dollies. The remainder of the stock is handled by 4-wheeled dollies to the lumber yard and remains in stock until in shipping condition. The lumber is sorted as to uppers and lower grades at the mill, the actual grading being done after going through the kilns or being dried on the yards. Nothing thicker than 2-inch is put in the kilns.

Drying the Lumber at Bowie.
The time required for drying lumber at Bowie is for 1-inch ten days, 1-1/4 inch thirteen days, 1-1/2 inch fifteen days and 2-inch twenty days.

The artificial drying of cypress lumber at Bowie has reached the height of perfection. The drying of cypress is necessarily slow, in order that it may not be case- hardened. The Bowie plan has been found a very effective one.
The kilns are four in number; built of brick and steel, with foundation walls thirteen inches thick. The four rooms are each 20 by 120 feet in size.

Each room is heated by over 15,000 feet of 1-inch steam pipe. The heat is kept in circulation by a system of ventilation. These kilns are 600 feet north of the saw mill building. The lumber goes into the kilns from a platform on the west which is 140 by 160 feet in area, the capacity of this platform being 375,000 feet of lumber.

Grading and Sheds at Bowie.
East of the kilns is an immense cooling shed with a capacity of 750,000 feet of lumber. This cooling shed is supported entirely by ten posts or trusses, leaving the entire floor space clear for work. From floor to comb board this cooling shed is 36 feet, making it the coolest and most airy spot at the plant at all times.

The lumber from the sheds at Bowie is elaborately graded and goes either into cars for shipment or to the planing mill or is stored in the dry shed 210 feet east of the dry kilns, to which point connection is had by elevated tramways. The dry shed is 110 feet in width, 365 feet in length and supported by very few posts, and will hold between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 feet of lumber. This dry shed is connected by tramway on the east end with the planing mill, 210 feet distant.

The Planing Mill at Bowie.
The planing mill at Bowie is contained in a building 60 by 180 feet in area. The machinery in the planing mill is run by a separate power plant which contains one boiler 72 inches in diameter and 16 feet long; one engine, size 18x48. The machines of the planing mill consist of one surfacer, two matchers, three molders, one band resaw, one picket machine, one circular resaw, two gang rip saws, three cutoff saws and four machines for the manufacture of cisterns and tanks.

The shavings from the planing mill are carried away by a double 72-inch Sturtevant blower and conveyed to the planing mill and saw mill boiler houses, 1,250 feet.

The yard at Bowie is laid out with three main alleys, running east and west, with cross alleys. These alleys are numbered from 1 to 17. The piling space in this yard will permit of 25,000,000 feet of lumber being stored and for protection against fire is supplied with a system of piping and other appliances.

There are two switch tracks of the Southern Pacific in the yard, one running through the rough lumber yard and the other the length of the planing mill dry shed dry kilns, making a loading space along the tracks of nearly two miles in extent, along both of the tracks.

With all the sheds contiguous to these tracks it is possible to ship dry finished lumber at any time regardless of the weather. Cross ties, bill stuff etc. are shipped in the rough and green state and are loaded direct onto the cars from the docks at the saw mill, rendering other handlings unnecessary.

The lumber at Bowie is well taken care of, being neatly stacked, stripped and covered, each pile having sufficient openings to admit plenty of air, all lengths being piled separately and separated as to alleys.

Electric Lights and Telephones.
The electric lighting system at Bowie is a very fine affair. It includes two dynamos, one with power for 250 16-candlepowcr lamps, the other having 500 16-candlepower light capacity. Of course not that many lamps are in use. These dynamos are run by a 10x12 engine. In addition to the lights mentioned are three arc lights.

The company has the Cumberland long distance telephone as well as local service. For the company’s use has been installed a private line with six instruments, located at the stores, saw mill, planing mill, Southern Pacific depot and the logging camps. This telephone line has just been rebuilt and has the most modern instruments.

Water Supply and Fire Protection.
The water supply for the use of Bowie families is taken from cypress cisterns. The boiler supply is taken from a fresh water canal two and one-half miles long, which canal is an important factor in fire protection as well.

The water is forced through the water pipes with which the yards and town of Bowie are supplied by a large fire pump located in a special house built for that purpose near the mill building. This fire pump is 8x14x12 in size.

An elevated tank, 100 feet high, which holds 65,000 gallons, is a feature of the water supply service. It is about twenty feet in diameter and is of a conical form.

A great source of fire protection at Bowie is a water jacket on the refuse burner which is 2-1/2 feet thick, runs fifty feet in height and holds 75,000 gallons of water.

Ready for instant use at Bowie are 2,950 feet of hose, 22 hose pipes, 114 filled water barrels, 182 buckets for speedy use, located in the proper places; and five tanks besides those that have had particular mention. Throughout the yard and town 7,430 feet of water pipe has been laid. There are in use two hose carts and nine hone houses located at various places throughout the properties where they will be of the greatest service. Altogether there are fourteen double hydrants outside of the buildings and twenty- seven single hydrants inside of the buildings.

The yard men at Bowie are organized under the head of the foremen for fire service.

The Bowie Lumber Company, Limited, maintains a large, roomy hotel at Bowie for employees who have no families and who desire to board. It is electric lighted throughout. At Coteau a boarding house is maintained for the same purpose. At Bayou Coteau and Bayou Boeuf are altogether 165 buildings which are owned by the Bowie Lumber Company, Limited.

The company employs a physician whose business it is to take care of the families and persons in the employ of the company. The doctor has a regular salary and employees are assessed for that service, the assessment entitling the people to the doctor's services in sickness or accident. During the entire history of the Bowie Lumber Company there has never been recorded a suit for damages. The company maintains a complete drug store in Bowie.

The Bowie Lumber Company, Limited, looks especially after the schooling of the youth of the community at the various villages. There is a school at Bowie, another at Coteau, another at Bayou Boeuf and another at the Malagay settlement. The company, of course, has in all cases paid the cost of erection of the school houses.

The Bowie Lumber Company, Limited, even goes so far as to pledge to the parish officers at Thibodaux the quiet and peace of the locality. Men associated with the management of the company are delegated to see that all the pledges of the company shall be carried out; thus the community's peace is guarded and cared for by the corporation that has made possible and necessary the existence of the little community.


So much was to be said about the plants of this institution in the small space devoted to text in this 40-page story that it was planned to devote as little space as possible to individuals. Yet inasmuch as the personality of one man affects all the affairs of these interests, and inasmuch as a story of this kind would be incomplete without a very pointed discussion of the antecedents and characteristics of that man and those other men who have helped to create this business, the LUMBERMAN will, in closing this story and under this general head, give the personal history of R. H. Downman and his managerial associates.

R. H. Downman.
Robert Henry Downman, president of the five companies and general manager of all the business of those companies, is one of the very few masters of detail that the writer has ever known who did not allow the minutiae of his work to weigh him down and put him in long straight furrows.

It is no exaggeration to say that Mr. Downman goes more explicitly into the innermost happenings of his business than does any other lumberman in the United States. He is a man of wonderful memory and seems to store away all the facts he gathers on his many trips through his possessions against the time when he might need them for reference. Ninety-five percent of the men and all of the foremen who work for the five companies know him personally. From stable boss to manager he knows each man, his value, his mental weight and the work that he essays to do.

Mr. Downman is a personal court of adjustment for claims and grievances inside and out of business; while most men with his responsibilities would act by proxy. He literally keeps open house—possibly an attribute of Virginia hospitality inherited from a long line of Virginia ancestors. He is as easy to see as the town pump in a country village. But by being swift in his conclusions and thus being able to say he will or he won’t on all propositions he does a personally conducted business—a rare accomplishment in these modern days.

Robert Henry Downman was born in Fauquier county, Virginia, February 27, 1860. The place of his birth was near Warrenton. About 1869 the family moved to Warrenton. Robert Henry attended school until he was nearly 15 years old.

Mr. Downman’s father was the county clerk of Fauquier county and Robert Henry was from 1874 to 1878 a clerk in his father’s office.

Mr. Downman was educated at the Agricultural and Mechanical college of Virginia, located at Blacksburg. After his school days he went back to Warrenton and was interested in the hardware, agricultural implement and lumber trades during 1879 and 1880.

Mr. Downman had an uncle at Bryan, Tex., who was in the retail drug business, and after his experience in Virginia he went to Texas and stayed with his uncle for about a year in the retail drug trade.

In 1881 R. H. Downman went to Waco, Tex., where he opened up a retail business in drugs. He sold that business in 1882 and went on a farm near Waco to do general work. He went with J. W. Castles & Co., of Waco, in the spring of 1883 as a clerk in the office, taking care of invoices and correspondence relative to orders. He stayed there until January 1, 1884. At that time J. W. Castles & Co. became Cameron, Castles & Story, wholesale groceries and drugs, and R. H. Downman was put in charge of the wholesale drug department. He stayed there until 1886, when the drug business was sold to Behrens & Castles, whereupon Mr. Downman went to represent Mr. Castles in that firm.

Mr. Downman married June 6, 1888, Miss Annie S. Cameron, daughter of the late William Cameron.

He stayed with Behrens & Castles until in February, 1889—at the solicitation of William Cameron—Mr. Downman went into the lumber firm of William Cameron & Co. as one of the working partners of that business, his part of the work being to look after the retail yards. Mr. Downman stayed there until the end of the term of that partnership, March 1, 1897. When that partnership was dissolved by mutual consent, in 1897, the firm continued under the name of William Cameron & Co., with William Cameron, R. H. Downman and W. W. Cameron the partners—the other junior partners retiring. This latter firm existed until the day of William Cameron’s death, February 6, 1899.

R. H. Downman was one of the executors of Mr. Cameron’s will together with his (William Cameron’s) wife and son, W. W. Cameron, and assisted in winding up the affairs of the estate. This resulted in a division of the estate under the terms of Mr. Cameron’s will. Mr. Downman in this division secured the Bowie Lumber Company, Limited, at Bowie; the stock that William Cameron owned in the Jeanerette Lumber & Shingle Company, Limited; stock in the Whitecastle Lumber & Shingle Company, and two retail lumber yards in San Antonio. This inheritance, however, brought only a modicum of what has since been added to the original in the six and a half years that have elapsed since the division.

Mr. Downman is today the owner of 90 percent of the stock of the Iberia Cypress Company, Limited, New Iberia, La.; the Bowie Lumber Company, Limited, Bowie, La.; the Des Allemands Lumber & Shingle Company, Limited, Allemands, La., and of 70 percent of the stock of the Whitecastle Lumber & Shingle Company, Limited, Whitecastle, La., and 60 percent of the stock of the Jeanerette Lumber & Shingle Company, Limited, at Jeanerette, La.

Mr. Downman’s properties in Texas and elsewhere are not made a part and parcel of the general estimate of his holdings in this article, but reference—in figures —is made only to his lumber possessions.

The William Cameron interests in cypress lumber began in the Whitecastle Lumber & Shingle Company, Limited, at Whitecastle, La., but their chief pride in the latter part of Mr. Cameron’s life was the building up of the plant at Bowie, of which Mr. Downman took active charge and which has prospered under his management in a wonderful way.

After getting Bowie in proper order Mr. Downman purchased the timber holdings of Francis Martin in La Fourche parish and acquired a mill at Allemands. This he bought November 5, 1900. The rebuilding of the plant of the Des Allemands Lumber & Shingle Company, Limited, was begun in June, 1901, and between that time and January 1, 1902, was rebuilt and put into shipshape order. December 26, 1900, Mr. Downman bought out the P. L. Renoudet Cypress Lumber Company, at New Iberia.

Mr. Downman moved to New Orleans October 1, 1900, and now occupies offices in rooms 1003-4-5-6 in the Hibernia Bank building, shown elsewhere.

Mr. Downman purchased the C. L. Hopkins tract of land of the Creole Cypress Company at Allemands, La., March 15, 1904. This plant has been abandoned.
Outside of his lumber business Mr. Downman owns large tracts of highly mineralized lands at Llano, Tex. It is considered a very valuable property, worth into the millions.

Besides his lumber stock and mining properties Mr. Downman owns stock in many other institutions which would not be of interest to lumber people to have mentioned.

Text and images were digitized and proofread from the original source documents by Murry Hammond. Contact Murry for all corrections and contributions of new material.