Frank B. Williams
Fortune, that fickle goddess whom man has come to look upon as determining the destiny of all, has played many queer tricks, to the dismay or exultation of her worshipers. She has smiled her sweetest upon the advent of her admirers' careers, only to cast them down when they have neared the goal of their ambition; while, conversely, she has not deigned at first to smile upon others struggling for her beneficence, and only after they have persistently wooed her has she lavished her gifts upon them. Frank Bennett Williams, of Patterson, Louisiana, is one whom fortune favored late, but then generously rewarded his persistent demands.
He was a pioneer in the manufacture of cypress. He labored long and well in the interests of the wood that only in recent years has been accorded the position it rightly deserves among the products of the forest. He is today a leader in the cypress industry and is receiving the honors which are due to a man of his sterling qualities.
Frank B. Williams is a native of the South. He was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1851, and obtained his education in the schools of the city. When school days were over he took up railroad work, with the ambition of becoming the head of some great system of transportation. His earlier years were spent in the operating departments of the Mobile &Ohio, the Louisville & Nashville and the Union Pacific railroad companies. Two years he put in as a railroad man, and then, in 1870, he took up civil engineering and assisted in the running of preliminary surveys of different routes in the South. His final experience in railroading was full of discouragement. He took a contract in connection with the construction of the Morgan line, now a part of the Southern Pacific System, to furnish the road with ties and timber for its extension to Texas. Then came the failure of the company, which left him with practically no capital after he had settled his indebtedness.
Some idea of the possibilities of the lumber industry was gleaned by Mr. Williams during his surveying experience and as a contractor, and he cast about to find an opening in this business. He found the looked-for opportunity in 1875, when he contracted for the output of several small mills in the vicinity of Patterson, where he had located. The lumber bought by him was shipped to Texas and disposed of to advantage. The business grew, but the young lumberman was handicapped in making any great progress by the lack of capital. Two years after he had started to work, however, he found a friend and associate in Capt. J.N. Pharr, a planter, who admired the pluck of Mr. Williams and who saw in him the attributes of success. Out of this friendly admiration grew a partnership, and a sawmill that formerly furnished lumber to the junior member of the firm was purchased. Manufacturing was begun on a small scale, considerable attention being paid to cypress, which in that period had little but local use.
Cypress timber could be had in plenty in the early '70's, nearly all the lands then being held by the State or Federal governments. Its value was not recognized and sales were made at seventy-five cents an acre. Mr. Williams studied the situation and came to the conclusion that the future of the cypress industry was unlimited and that no investment was more promising than in its timber. That his judgment was correct in every particular has been proved by the trend of the industry in recent years. From his first small holdings of timber lands bought in 1880, he has continued his purchases until now his holdings aggregate more than 100,000 acres of the choicest cypress lands in Louisiana. It is conservatively estimated that these lands carry over 1,000,000,000 feet of cypress timber.
Following the buying of the mill by Pharr & Williams, in 1877, Mr. Williams devoted his entire time to the manufacturing end of the business. The capacity of the plant was increased as the demand for cypress grew with a better understanding of its merits on the part of the yards and consumers. Now in operation are two double band mills with a combined capacity of 40,000,000 feet of lumber annually. They are modern throughout, and a large planing mill is run in conjunction with them. Mr. Williams has adhered to the policy of air curing the product and can not be persuaded to add dry kilns to the equipment.
The partnership of Pharr & Williams was dissolved in 1892 and the business was continued by Mr. Williams, though a company was subsequently formed and incorporated under the title of the F.B. Williams Cypress Company, Limited, of which F.B. Williams is president; C.S. Williams, vice president, and L.M. Williams, secretary and treasurer.
Well may Mr. Williams be called a pioneer in the cypress industry, for he was among the first to engage in its manufacture on a large scale and has always been a consistent advocate of the wood. Beyond a comparatively small use of the wood along the Chesapeake and Delaware bays and the Atlantic Coast as far north as Long Island Sound, accessible by water, no market other than the local one was open when he began to operate the first mill. It was not until the consumption of white pine in the growing West gave an upward tendency to values that a wider field for cypress was secured. The early producers struggled long and hard to prove their assertion that the wood was a proper substitute for the product of the northern forests. But recognition was bound to come, and Mr. Williams and his associates years ago began to reap the fruits of their victory.
Operating as carried on by the company under Mr. Williams' direction is of a substantial character. Through the tracts of timber lands where logging is going on has been built a system of canals for the getting of the logs out of the swamps to the mills. At certain seasons of the year in Louisiana, especially since the construction of the levees, it is difficult to get sufficient water on the ground to float out the logs. To overcome this condition large canals were dug and smaller branch ditches cut, enabling the logs to be carried to the main canals by boats and from there taken to the mills either singly or in rafts. Skidders also are used and in some cases tramroads are run in on corduroy.
Mr. Williams takes a pardonable pride in the office of the company at Patterson. The building itself is of the impressive old colonial style, with wide galleries. The finish is exclusively of cypress, the most beautifully figured wood being used for that purpose, and the effect produced is decidedly handsome.
Mr. Williams is actively identified with the politics of the State and Nation and has served as a member of the Republican National Committee and as the chairman of the State committee. He is president of the Whitney Central Bank, of New Orleans, one of the largest concerns in the South, and also of the State Bank of Patterson, a leading financial institution, and is interested in other banks in the commonwealth. He is owner of considerable real estate scattered in nine parishes of Louisiana and has numerous other interests, including rice and sugar plantations.
In the year Mr. Williams embarked in the lumber business--1876--he married Miss E. W. Seyburn, of Patterson. Four sons have been reared by the couple, and two of these young men are now officers of the company of which their father is the head. The children are C.S., L.M., L.K. and H.P. Williams, the two former, as previously mentioned, are officers of the great cypress company bearing the Williams name, and of the two latter, L.K. is about to enter Princeton College and H.P., Yale University.