William Henry Norris, biography c. 1906
[American Lumberman magazine]
  Source: American Lumberman. The Personal History and Public and Business Achievements of One Hundred Eminent Lumbermen of the United States, Third Series. Chicago: American Lumberman, 1906. pp. 285-289. Original courtesy University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Texas Transportation Archive
William H. Norris

Side by side have the northerner and the southerner worked out the development of the industrial South. To neither one alone can be given the credit, but to the combination of the energy and sturdiness of the one with the thorough knowledge of sectional conditions and needs possessed by the other. A fine type of the man of northern nativity who has aided in the commercial development of the South is William H. Norris, of Houston, Texas. Lumbering came by inheritance to Mr. Norris. His great-grandfather, grandfather and uncle were sawmill men and it is, therefore, but a natural sequence that he, too, should engage in this industry.

William Henry Norris was born in Nottingham, New Hampshire, April lo, 1868, the fourth of that name, with but one break in four generations, who first saw light in the same room in the same old family homestead. He is the son of Abbott and Caroline (Hoague) Norris. The first William Norris and his brother Sias came from Warwickshire, England, early in the Eighteenth Century and settled at Nottingham. Sias went to Canada, where a branch of the family still flourishes. The great-grandfather and grandfather of Mr. Norris remained in New Hampshire and ran an "up and down" water sawmill that was still operating in 1876. Its capacity was about 2,000 feet a day. The best attributes of these ancestors are combined in their Texas descendant.

Abbott Norris, the father, was a general merchant at Nottingham. The boy obtained the rudiments of an education at the public schools near his home and then attended Putnam Academy, at Newburyport, Massachusetts, where he followed the general line of instruction and passed an examination for the Institute of Technology, of Boston, supplementing his study by a course in mechanical engineering. But before he could enter the technical school it became necessary for him to go to work, and he accepted the conditions with characteristic cheerfulness.

His first work was in the wholesale grocery house of Boyd, Leeds & Co., of Boston, where he remained until the latter part of 1889. ^^ this, his first connection with the business world, Mr. Norris began at the very bottom and rose by gradual stages to the position of traveling representative. In the cold and wet of that rigorous clime, however, he contracted successive colds which finally resulted in a severe attack of rheumatic fever, compelling him to retire from business for a time and eventually to seek a warmer climate.

Mr. Norris' entry into the lumber business was largely accidental. In going South he had no distinct purpose in view other than to avoid for a season the cold of northern winters; but he turned instinctively to his uncle, W.B. Norris, who was, and is still, a yellow pine manufacturer at Westlake, Louisiana. He was immediately attracted by the lumber business and soon joined his uncle in the management of his properties. W. B. Norris had erected at Westlake, just after the close of the Civil War, a sawmill which is still running. It was about this mill that the nephew gained his knowledge of the manufacturing end of the business. He stayed at Westlake until 1893, when he went to Houston, Texas, and entered the employ of the T. M. Richardson Lumber Company, of Oklahoma City, as traveling salesman for its Houston office, remaining with that concern nearly a year and until its Houston business was sold to the late J. I. Campbell, who afterward formed the J.I. Campbell Company, of which Mr. Norris is now the receiver.

On leaving the Richardson company Mr. Norris determined to have done with inferior positions forever, and he immediately formed a copartnership with J.B. Beatty, a man well known to the trade, under the firm name of Norris & Beatty. This firm continued in business in Houston until 1896, when it dissolved and Mr. Norris formed the W.H. Norris Lumber Co., not incorporated. In this venture Mr. Norris had for his backer an old schoolmate and boyhood friend, W. A. Russell, of Boston, now president of the Chandler Steel Company, of Ayer, Massachusetts. Mr. Russell became the silent partner of the company and so remained for several years.

On January 2, 1902, the W. H. Norris Lumber Company was incorporated under the laws of the State of Texas, by W.H. Norris and William E. Ramsay and C. W. Penoyer, the two last named being respectively president and vice president of the Bradley-Ramsay Lumber Company, of Lake Charles, Louisiana. The capital stock of the company was fixed at $100,000 and the following officers were elected and still hold office: President, W.H. Norris; vice president, C.W. Penoyer; secretary, N. C. Hoyt.

The Norris company is classed as both a manufacturer and wholesaler. It has a half interest in the famous Gebert Shingle Company, Limited, of New Iberia, Louisiana, and has large interests in pine and cypress mills at various places. It has large timber holdings in Louisiana for future operations. Since the date of its incorporation the company has continually strengthened its resources and increased its business until it is now recognized as one of the most important factors in the southern lumber market.

Mr. Norris is the receiver of the great properties of the J.I. Campbell Company, under the appointment of the State courts, as well as of the properties of the Warren & Corsicana Pacific Railway, and the Tyler County Land & Lumber Company. His work is so systematized and regulated that he is able to attend to these varied interests without trouble.

Mr. Norris, although of northern birth and education, has won his success in life in the South, where the best opportunities are offered to the enterprising young men of the country. He is a distinct type of the advanced business man, and, although not "to the manner born," he is bound indissolubly to the fortunes of his adopted section. His record shows his indomitable nerve and energy and his honesty of purpose and character. His energy is not of that aggressive sort that seeks to impress itself upon others - rather he accomplishes things while others, perhaps, are dreaming. Although modest and retiring in disposition, he is a born leader and takes first rank in any enterprise —business, political or social in which he may be engaged.

Mr. Norris is a member of the Houston, Thalian and Elks clubs of his home city, as well as of the Houston Turn Verien. He is an Odd Fellow, a thirty-second degree Mason and a Shriner. He has been the snark of the universe of the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo, and is an honorary member of the great electrical order. The Sons of Jove. He has always been an active worker in the Lumbermen's Association of Texas. He is a member of the Cypress Manufacturers' Association of Louisiana and the Southern Lumber Manufacturers' Association. His election to the supreme head of Hoo-Hoo was accomplished at the Milwaukee annual in 1902, upon which occasion he was the unanimous choice of the membership assembled from every State in the Union. And thereby hangs a tale. There was but one objection to Mr. Norris in the minds of those staid business men of the North, and that was his status as a probably confirmed bachelor. While the convention did not suspect that he had a matrimonial plan afoot, he was given warning, and readily promised to appear at the next annual with a bride, or not at all. How well he kept his word those Hoo-Hoo who attended the Buffalo annual know. When Mr. and Mrs. W.H. Norris appeared on the scene it was the occasion of a demonstration which they must long remember. Mr. Norris wedded Miss Martha Cloman at El Paso, Texas, August 25, 1903, and the happy couple now possess a daughter, Lucile.

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