J. Frank Keith.
Patience, perseverance and conservatism are the most prominent of the business traits of J. Frank Keith, of Beaumont, Texas, and make up what is really the key chord of his successful career in public and private life.
Jehu Franklin Keith or Frank Keith, as his friends know him is the first son and third child of Henry Cortez De Soto Fayette Keith and Sarah Elizabeth La Porte Keith, and was born in Jasper County, Texas, December 18, 1857. His father was born in Decatur, Georgia, and his mother in Monroe County, Alabama. His paternal grandfather was of Irish descent and took a prominent part in the stirring scenes of the Revolutionary War, particularly those which were enacted on South Carolina soil. He was a patriot and soldier and, as his son's name indicates, was an admirer of men who did things. The grandmother was of French descent and came from that sturdy Huguenot stock that has made Georgia famous in song and story. Mr. Keith's maternal grandfather, John La Porte, was born on the Atlantic Ocean while his parents were en route from France to the United States. The maternal grandmother's maiden name was Hannah Mims Smith and she was born in Alabama.
The parents of J. Frank Keith migrated from Alabama to Texas and settled at Pinetucky, in Jasper County, in the fall of 1854. The country was a wilderness and the pioneer in those days had to carve his way in the forest with such resources as were at his command. With his own hands Henry Keith cut the logs in the woods, built a house, cleared a small farm and became a progressive citizen. When Frank was twelve years old his father died and the responsibility of helping to make a living devolved upon him. There were few schools in those days and all the education the boy received did not exceed six months in duration. The first job he had was sitting on one of the old-fashioned gin levers and driving the horses around and around, day after day. He inherited from his ancestors an inclination to follow the sea, but gave up this desire to please his mother.
When fifteen years old he went to Beaumont, where he began bunching shingles for Long & Co., and devoted several hours each night to the study of the few school books he possessed. After working in the shingle mills six months as general roustabout, he was promoted successively to the positions of engineer, saw filer and foreman. During these days in the mill he learned every detail of each operation, and today not a man in his employ knows more than he about any piece of machinery and how it should be run. In 1875 Long & Co. bought what was known as the old Black mill on the Sabine River, a short distance below Orange, and put Mr. Keith in charge. The mill cut ties, stringers and other heavy timber for the Texas & New Orleans Railroad, then being built from Orange to Beaumont. The mill was moved to Beaumont in the early part of 1876 and afterward became the property of the Beaumont Lumber Company. Mr. Keith remained with the mill and in 1881 superintended the building of a mill for his employers at Village Mills, Hardin County, on the Sabine & East Texas Railway, now the Southern Pacific.
In order to be abreast of the development of the lumber industry, Long & Co. decided to widen their business scope and organized the Tram & Lumber Company, in Beaumont, which later was changed to the Texas Tram & Lumber Company, and subsequently took over the property of the Eagle mill at Beaumont, which had been built by Smith & Scale. The property was consolidated with the holdings at Village Mills and a tram road to Yellow Bluff, in Jasper County, in 1889. Mr. Keith was elected vice president and general manager of the new concern, which for several years was one of the largest lumber and timber enterprises in the State.
Mr. Keith held this position with credit to himself and profit to the company until 1898, when he left the Texas Tram & Lumber Company to embark in business for himself. With Colonel Sam Park, now president of the Industrial Lumber Company, of Beaumont, he organized the J. F. Keith Company, which has for its main purpose the operating of a line of vessels between Texas ports and the principal ports of the West Indies and Mexico. Colonel Park soon sold his interest to B. R. Norvell, and at about the same time the J. F. Keith Company bought the interest of the Consolidated Lumber Export Company, the principal asset of which was a lumber yard and large sheds and wharves at Tampico, Mexico. In addition to this purchase the Keith company bought a big sawmill at Ariola, then owned by the Hooks Lumber Company, and the great lumber tonnage of this mill was added to the business carried on with the Mexican and West Indian ports. In 1901, upon his own terms, Mr. Keith, in behalf of his company, sold the entire property to the Kirby Lumber Company. Mr. Keith had a varied experience while he was engaged in the maritime business between southeast Texas and Mexico. During this period, he visited all the principal ports along Mexico's Gulf coast.
In 1902 Mr. Keith organized the Keith Lumber Company, with headquarters at Beaumont, in the Keith Building, on Pearl Street, of which company he is president and general manager. About 100,000,000 feet of timber is owned. The mill of the company is at Voth, on the Sabine division of the Southern Pacific, and is one of the largest and best mills in southeastern Texas. It has a daily cutting capacity of 80,000 feet, has a number of planers and edgers, four dry kilns and eight miles of first-class standard gauge tramroad. This tram road has been incorporated under the name of the Beaumont & Saratoga Transportation Company, of which Mr. Keith is vice president and general manager, and is building steadily toward the oil fields of Saratoga, in Hardin County. Associated with Mr. Keith in the mill operations are W. A. Fletcher, W. C. Tyrrell, B. R. Norvell, J. H. Broom, E. A. Fletcher and L. E. Ingram, who are also the principal stockholders in the railroad company.
Other important enterprises of Beaumont, with which Mr. Keith is connected, and his relations to them are as follows: Director in the Beaumont Ice, Light & Refrigerating Company; director in the American National Bank; director in the Heisig & Norvell Wholesale Grocery Company; president of the Park Bank & Trust Company; director in the Andrus-Park Grocer Company. He is also a stockholder and director in the Beaumont, Sour Lake & Western Railway, which runs from Beaumont to Sour Lake and which will be extended westward. He is the owner of some of the most valuable and desirable property in the city where he makes his home.
Mr. Keith married Miss Alice Carroll, the daughter of F. L. Carroll, one of the principals in the Long & Co. lumber enterprise, March 29, 1882. The union has been singularly happy, and five children make the home circle complete. They are as follows: Mrs. C. A. Easley, W. C. Keith, Olga Keith, Azille Keith and Alice Keith.
Mr. Keith is a member of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, the Woodmen of the World and the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.