John Charles Turner, biography c. 1905
[American Lumberman magazine]
  Source: American Lumberman. The Personal History and Public and Business Achievements of One Hundred Eminent Lumbermen of the United States, First Series. Chicago: American Lumberman, 1905. pp. 43-46. Original courtesy University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Texas Transportation Archive
John C. Turner

This is the story of the business career of one of the youngest of the distinguished lumbermen in the United States John Charles Turner, president of the J. C. Turner Cypress Lumber Company, of the city of New York. He was born of German parentage at Troy, New York, in 1860. When nine years old he moved with his parents to Toledo, Ohio, and as a boy of tender years was impressed with the responsibilities of life by employment in the Norcross chair factory. About three years afterward this factory was moved to Hillsdale, Michigan. Thither young Turner followed and there he completed his apprenticeship as a chairmaker. Not only did he work daily at the making of chairs, but his evenings and Sundays were devoted to study and he eventually fitted himself for admission to the Hillsdale College. He was graduated from this institution in 1879 as president of his class and its youngest member. During his college career he sold law books to defray his expenses. Three years later the faculty of the college bestowed upon him the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. From 1879 to 1881 Mr. Turner taught school at Put-in-Bay, Ohio.

Mr. Turner's career as a lumberman began in 1882, when he engaged with Cook & Wilson, then a leading firm of white pine wholesalers at Michigan City, Indiana, as traveling salesman. His field of work was in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri, and from the start he was a successful road salesman.

In 1885 he joined the Chicago house of Street, Chatfield & Keep in a like capacity. There he remained for a year, and then was admitted to partnership with that leader of the white pine lumber trade, Joseph Rathborne, of Chicago, under the firm name of Joseph Rathborne & Co. This was in 1886. About this time Mr. Turner became impressed with the intrinsic merit of gulf cypress as a wood and of its possibilities as a legitimate substitute for white pine, in both lumber and shingles. He made an extended trip to the Louisiana cypress producing fields, then in their infancy as a lumber section. His interest in cypress became an enthusiasm, which resulted in his becoming the purchaser of cypress shingles and lumber at wholesale. He put on a line of barges from the cypress country to East St. Louis, Illinois, from which point he distributed his purchases by car throughout a half dozen states. Mr. Turner was an indefatigable worker and his trade grew and prospered. A single day's purchase of cypress by him as far back as 1888 aggregated 15,000,000 feet.

The cypress output of the Gulf country did not commensurately increase with the expanding demands of the trade that had been built up by Mr. Turner, and so in 1889 the Louisiana Cypress Lumber Company was organized by Joseph Rathborne, himself and others, with J. C. Turner as secretary and manager. The company bought timber properties and erected a double band mill at Harvey, across the Mississippi from New Orleans. This operation has been continued ever since and is one of the most prosperous institutions in the South, thus fully demonstrating the acumen of Mr. Turner's judgment.

In 1895 Mr. Turner concluded that he could enlarge his opportunities and commercial possibilities in the cypress field by once more entering the jobbing trade. His foresight has been amply demonstrated. He left New Orleans and went to New York, and, with a capital of only $25,000, organized the J. C. Turner Cypress Lumber Company. On his retirement from the South the Southern Cypress Lumber & Shingle Association passed a resolution that recited the history of the invaluable work Mr. Turner had already performed in connection with the exploitation and sale of cypress throughout the United States, indorsed his plan for the installation of a wholesale distributing yard at New York and concluded with an encomium on his character and ability.

Better than all this, however, the individual cypress manufacturers of the South had come to know J. C. Turner intimately and well. They knew that his integrity, his ability and his judgment were no chimerical qualities, and, although the cash capital of his company was small, his standing with the cypress manufacturers was such that he commanded unlimited credit at once. This confidence of the cypress producers, possessed then by Mr. Turner, he possesses today in an increased ratio. It has been his largest and most valuable asset and has resulted in his becoming the most extensive handler of cypress lumber in the world. In addition to that, the Turner Cypress Lumber Company has become one of the largest owners of cypress timber lands in the United States. It is estimated that the company's holdings aggregate fully 1,000,000,000 feet.

Opening a distributing yard at Irvington, New York, in 1895, Mr. Turner has compassed a commercial growth from an annual sale of 6,000,000 feet to one of between 40,000,000 and 50,000,000 feet. When it is considered that the cypress handlings of this house are entirely of the good end of the stock it will be seen that the business is one of the largest jobbing lumber enterprises in the country. The Turner cypress plant at Irvington has a dock and yard storage capacity of upwards of 20,000,000 feet. This plant has but recently been completed and has planing mill facilities.

The Turner plant is splendidly equipped for distribution by both water and railroad, which assures prompt service to the trade of New York and throughout the East.

In April, 1903, the Turner Cypress Lumber Company was reorganized under the laws of the state of New York with a paid up capital of $500,000. The company carries, either at points of production or at its yard at Irvington, an average stock of 35,000,000 feet of cypress.

Mr. Turner is largely interested in the Ocmulgee River Lumber Company, a large cypress and yellow pine producing concern, which has a paid up capital of $300,000. This company's seat of operation is at Lumber City, Georgia. Mr. Turner is also heavily interested in the Taylor-Cook Cypress Lumber Company, of Brunswick, Georgia, at which point its saw mill is located. This company has cypress and yellow pine holdings aggregating 150,000,000 feet.

December 29, 1887, Mr. Turner married Miss Louise E. Andrews, the daughter of B.P. Andrews, of Lincoln, Illinois.

Mr. Turner's general offices are located in New York City, from which point he personally directs every detail of purchase, transportation, sale, distribution and finance of his corporation, with the same untiring energy and persistency with which, as a boy, he attained his education and later his supremacy in the commercial world.

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.