The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Newman (J. J.) Lumber Company Records
Collection Number: M286
Dates: ca. 1895 - 1943
Volume: 13 Volumes (4 cu. ft.)
The J. J. Newman Lumber Company operated in Hattiesburg, Mississippi from approximately 1894-1943. The company was founded by Judson Jones Newman, a veteran lumberman who had been involved in the hemlock manufacturing business in Pennsylvania prior to his arrival in Hattiesburg. The plant was located in the southeastern sector of the city, at the end of Buschman and Newman Streets. The site was originally occupied by the Wiscassett mill, which burned in 1893. Shortly thereafter, the property was purchased by the J. J. Newman company, and a new mill was erected. The massive sprawling complex, with its planing mills, sorting sheds, dry kilns, finish sheds, and sundry other structures, covered ten acres, and within a decade of its inception it had become the largest lumber company in Mississippi, and one of the largest in the entire South.
The phenomenal growth of the company can be attributed largely to the business acumen of Fenwick L. Peck, founder of the Lackawanna Lumber Company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Since both Peck and Newman had ties to Pennsylvania, it is altogether likely that they were acquainted prior to Peck's association with the Newman company. At any rate, Peck visited Hattiesburg in 1896, and envisioning a boom in the yellow pine lumber business, he purchased the controlling interest in the Newman Lumber Company. The addition of new capital and Peck's dynamic leadership enabled the company to expand its timber holdings and increase its production capabilities. At its peak of production, the company owned 400,000 acres of timberlands and produced 75,000,000 board feet of lumber per year.
Timberlands to feed Mississippi's lumber industry were acquired in a variety of ways. For example, in the late nineteenth century, the state's pine lands were considered relatively worthless, because they were unsuited for agriculture. As a result, virgin timber stands could be purchased for a paltry $1.25 per acre. Another source of lands was Mississippi's institutions of higher learning. During the 1890's the federal government bestowed grants in excess of 22,000 acres to each of the state's existing public IHL's: The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss); Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn University; The Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Mississippi State University); and The Industrial Institute and College (now Mississippi University for Women). With the exception of Ole Miss, all the schools sold their lands to lumbermen between 1895 and 1902. Other lands were acquired from federal land grants made to railroads. A case in point is the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad (mainline from Gulfport to Jackson, Mississippi) which was offered 120 sections of land for each 20 miles of track laid. The net gain was 100,000 acres of land which the railroad sold to various lumbermen. In acquiring its timber holdings, the J. J. Newman Company employed all the above-mentioned means.
Since the lumber industry was inexorably linked to railroading, the Newman Company opted to build its own rail line for transporting logs from its timberlands to the mill. The first increment was a nineteen-mile track from Hattiesburg to Sumrall, built in 1897. In November of that year the railroad was incorporated as the Pearl and Leaf Rivers Railroad Company, and a short time later, two sawmills were constructed at Sumrall to supply the Hattiesburg plant. According to the railroad's original charter, the western terminus of the line was to have been Columbia, but it was eventually extended to Brookhaven. In 1905 the name of the line was changed to the Mississippi Central Railroad, and by 1908 the Natchez and Eastern Railway line from Natchez to Brookhaven had been absorbed by the Mississippi Central Railroad, creating an unbroken rail line from Hattiesburg to Natchez. This line provided access to the Gulf of Mexico and points beyond the Mississippi River for the Newman Company, as well as numerous other mills that sprang up along its length.
The principal products of the Newman Lumber Company were yellow pine lumber, timbers, and lath (narrow strips of wood used as a base for plaster). Substantial quantities of poplar, gum, oak, and cypress lumber were produced as well. In addition, the plant operated a box factory which utilized short lumber and scrap materials that would otherwise have been burned. Products manufactured were crating and box shooks (bundles of parts ready to be assembled into boxes). The company also maintained a naval stores organization and sold large quantities of turpentine and rosin.
Products of the Newman Company were widely distributed to both domestic and foreign markets. In the United States, the market extended primarily from east of the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Seaboard. Sales to foreign markets were handled through the American Pitch Pine Export Company of New Orleans, and included such destinations as South America, Central America, Mexico, the West Indies, Europe, and Africa.
The importance of the Newman Lumber Company to Hattiesburg's economy cannot be overstated. In its heyday, it employed 1200 people and had the capacity to produce 200,000 board feet of lumber per day. As early as 1898, it was said that the company manufactured enough lumber in one year to "make a plank walk, five inches wide around the entire globe." Due to the company's presence, Hattiesburg became an important headquarters for buyers of yellow pine lumber, and by 1911, thirty lumber wholesalers maintained offices in the city. The significance of the industry was further exemplified by the community's response when the mill was destroyed by fire in 1908. The estimated cost of rebuilding was $150,000, and to offset the expense, the company requested certain tax exemptions from the city of Hattiesburg and a donation of land from the citizens of Forrest County. Both requests were granted, with the money for the land purchase (ca. $2000) being raised by private subscription. The company reciprocated for the community's generosity on several occasions. In 1910, an offer was made to donate 640 acres of land to the Mississippi Normal College if Hattiesburg were chosen as its site, and in 1916 the transfer of deed to said property was finalized. Then in 1917, the company donated much of the land on which Camp Shelby (just south of Hattiesburg) was built during World War I. In addition, a spur line from the Mississippi Central Railroad was built to transport workers to the site.
Judson Jones Newman died on Christmas Day, 1900 of complications following a paralytic stroke, however the company continued to operate under the Newman name. The business prospered until the 1930's when the timber supply began to dwindle, and by 1935, Newman's timberlands were completely exhausted. At that point, sawing operations at the Hattiesburg plant were ceased, but the company continued to operate until all inventory and equipment had been disposed of (approximately 1943).
No history of the J. J. Newman Lumber Company would be complete without mentioning its affiliate, the Homochitto Lumber Company, and touching briefly on the extent of Fenwick L. Peck's investment in Mississippi. In 1901, Peck combined his lumber interests in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Mississippi to form the United States Lumber Company, and by 1905, U. S. Lumber's total investment in timberlands, sawmills and railroads in Mississippi amounted to $26 million. Further expansion of the company occurred in 1911, when the Homochitto Lumber Company at Brookhaven was added to its holdings. In order to supply the new company, another sawmill and town were built at Bude, Mississippi. In 1917, Mr. S. E. Moreton of Brookhaven was named general manager of both the Newman and Homochitto Companies, with headquarters at Brookhaven. Mr. Moreton continued as general manager until the company's demise in about 1943, and served on U. S. Lumber's Board of Directors until approximately 1950. The Newman Company remained a subsidiary of U. S. Lumber until at least 1959, but its only assets were some 93,000 acres of mineral lands retained after liquidation. In the intervening years, the mineral lands were leased to oil companies and explored for possible oil and gas deposits. However, no major discoveries were recorded.
On March 18, 1971, the last remnant of the J. J. Newman Lumber Company, the old office building at 808 Newman Street, was destroyed by fire, and Hattiesburg's former industrial giant faded into history.
This collection consists of thirteen volumes of journals and ledgers documenting the financial condition, accounts and related activities of the J. J. Newman Lumber Company which operated in Hattiesburg, Mississippi between approximately 1894 and 1943. It is not a complete set of the company's books, but some information is available for almost every year of the company's existence. The largest gaps for which no information is available are 1899-1902 and 1907-1908.
The books were stored, for an unspecified time, in the concrete and steel vault of the Newman Lumber Company office at 808 Newman Street and survived the 1971 fire that destroyed the building. They were rescued and carried to Southern Railway baggage and coach cars on a siding near the building by Mr. Daniel Watson, then an undergraduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi who was helping to restore the cars. In 1993 Mr. Charles Harrington, a former employee of the Southern Railway Company, brought them to the attention of Dr. Gilbert H. Hoffman, who was conducting research for a book on the lumber industry in the South. Recognizing their historic value, Dr. Hoffman donated them to the University of Southern Mississippi's McCain Library and Archives.
Volumes comprising the collection are two Account Ledgers, seven Journal Ledgers, two General Ledgers, one Cash Journal and one volume of Manufacturing Statements and Balance Sheets. While the covers of the books are in various stages of deterioration, the contents are remarkably well-preserved, particularly in view of their ages and the conditions under which they were previously stored. With few exceptions, entries are handwritten.
The Account Ledgers (Boxes 1 & 2) date from 1895 to 1898, and reflect accounts payable and receivable. Entries are recorded under the names of the various accounts and document activities affecting same. Included are amounts owed by customers, wages and salaries, bank notes, taxes, various purchases, and bad accounts (those deemed uncollectible). The books also provide an overview of the individuals and firms with whom business was conducted. According to these records, the company served customers from Bar Harbor, Maine to Keokuk, Iowa, and points in between, including New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri. Pages 1-63 of the ledger in box 1 have moisture damage and are difficult to read. Among the accounts therein are the personal expenses of J. J. Newman (pp. 524-526), with entries for cigars, a hammock, and a bicycle, as well as the more mundane expenditures one might expect to find in such an account. The ledger in Box 2 contains much the same information as the previous one, but entries are somewhat more detailed. For example, expenses are often broken down into smaller, more definitive units. Worthy of note is a letter slipped between pages 120 and 121. The letter, dated December 30, 1898, was written by Hal Stevens of Freeman Lumber Company, Millville, Arkansas, to Frost-Trigg Lumber Company of St. Louis, Missouri. The subject is an unsatisfactory shipment of yellow pine lumber to Moore Brothers of Mattoon, Illinois. The shipment in question may have originated with Newman Lumber Company.
In the Journal Ledgers (Boxes 3-9), the company's activities are recorded on a monthly basis, in the order in which they occurred. Profit and loss figures follow the December entries, which may indicate that the company's fiscal year coincided with the calendar year. These Journals provide a comprehensive history of the day-to-day operation of the plant. Examples are entries concerning land purchases, construction of lateral roads, tools, equipment, utilities, salaries, selling commissions, legal expenses, settlements of claims, railroad expenses and sales of stripped lands. On the whole, the journal ledgers pay a great deal of attention to detail, and include some interesting descriptions of land purchases, using terms prevalent in the early twentieth century. It should be noted that the journal in Box 8 has suffered fairly severe water damage, and parts of pages 2-9 are indecipherable. Dates covered by these journals are:
Boxes 10 and 11 contain the Newman Company's General Ledgers. The volume in Box 10 spans the period 1909-1917. Water damage has virtually obliterated the first few pages, and the last several pages have also experienced some damage. The volume in Box 11 dates from approximately 1914 through 1943. As a rule, General Ledgers contain summarized accounts of all assets, liabilities and elements of ownership equity of a business, including revenues and expenses. Entries are posted from journal entries (in this case, the Journal Ledgers in Boxes 3-9). The accounts are arranged alphabetically, and list activities affecting them. Each entry is dated, and to its immediate right are a page number and identification number indicating the location of that particular item in the Journal Ledger. The General Ledgers contain a myriad of information concerning plant operations. Some examples are collections for old age benefits; rent of company-owned houses; depreciation of buildings, dwellings, plants and railroad equipment; export commissions; fire losses; oil leases; office furniture and fixtures; and daily operating expenses. Three noteworthy items are: (1) a notation that the town of Bude and the mill site were sold to the Central Lumber Company on July 1, 1943; (2) a letter from S. E. Moreton to Charles J. Williams, Jr. (dated Jan. 1, 1937, filed with Moore Dry Kiln account) concerning the sale of dry kiln equipment at Bude, Mississippi to the Moore Dry Kiln Company of Jacksonville, Florida; and (3) a document outlining Allocation tucked into the T. J. De Laughter account).
The Cash Journal (Box 12) details the company's monthly receipts and disbursements from November 1940 to December 1943. These records reveal that General Manager, S. E. Moreton, was paid a salary of $200 per month during that period.
Box 13 contains Monthly Manufacturing Statements and Balance Sheets which provide a comprehensive record of income and expenses between 1924 and 1929. A few of these records are typed, but most are handwritten.
The J. J. Newman Lumber Company played a vital role in the early development of Hattiesburg, and the materials in this collection provide valuable insight into the financial affairs and daily operations of the company. The collection should be useful to researchers of the southern pine lumber industry or the early history of Hattiesburg.
Mrs. Lamar Henington (whose husband was an attorney for the J. J. Newman Lumber Company) Oral History Interview, transcript call number F341.5 .M57x vol. 76 (McCain Library).
RG 20 USM Physical Plant: Buildings, Equipment and Lands, Box 1 (a document finalizing transfer of deed to property donated to Mississippi Normal College by the J. J. Newman Lumber Company)
Louis Edward Faulkner Papers, M 22 (contains documents related to the Mississippi Central Railroad, U. S. Lumber Co., and Newman Lumber Co.)
Railroad Collection, M 169 (contains documents related to the Mississippi Central Railroad)
Dr. Gilbert H. Hoffman Papers and Research Collection, M 272 (contains photographs of Mississippi Central Railroad activities, S. E. Moreton, and related lumber companies)