William R. Abbott
When the chroniclers of the Twentieth Century shall begin their task of recording the work of that period, one of the conditions that will create comment will be the prominence of young men in the conduct of affairs. It is not because the elder history makers abdicated their positions when the century was young but rather because of the younger generation's persistence and capability to rule and possess. Of this type is William Richard Abbott, of Fort Smith, Arkansas, who, though still almost a youth in years, is a successful business man and typical of a new country, where possibilities are almost unlimited.
William R. Abbott was not born and raised in the section of the Southwest where he has gained name and fame. His birthplace was at Pleasant Mount, Wayne County, Pennsylvania, and his natal day was July 5, 1868. His parents, Charles John and Margaret Abbott, moved to Kirksville, Missouri, during his boyhood, and it was in the quiet atmosphere of that town that he lived until he was seventeen years old. He attended the public and normal schools of Kirksville, securing more than a fair education.
His first employment was in the yard of the Chicago Lumber Company, at Wichita, Kansas, in 1887. He was not long in showing that he had ability, and he was transferred to other yards of the company, with which he remained for two years. He fancied that he saw more opportunities for one of his ambition and energy in newer sections of the West, and so traveled to Utah, where he secured a position with the Eccles Lumber Company, at Ogden. The city was then but a small border town offering but few openings, and young Abbott returned to Kansas and worked for the Kansas Grain & Elevator Company at Cherryvale. This was in 1890, and in the same year the old desire to reenter the lumber business came over him and he became identified with the Long-Bell Lumber Company.
In September, 1890, Mr. Abbott was sent to Indian Territory to look after some of the Long-Bell interests. During the two years he remained with the company, he not only familiarized himself with the manufacture and distribution of lumber, but with the conditions and opportunities offered in various sections. With this preparation he felt equipped to engage in business for himself, and in 1892 he located at Fort Smith, and organized the Fort Smith Lumber Company, with a capital of $20,000. He was unable to finance the business unaided, but a man of his talents and character was not to be denied and he found a friend and associate in William Blair, a banker of Fort Smith.
The company was incorporated in 1897 with a capital of $60,000. A mill of moderate capacity was built and logs were furnished from Indian Territory. The first large timber deal of the company was the buying, in 1899, of a block of 76,400 acres. Since then, however, many purchases of timber have been made. The home office is at Abbott, Arkansas, a small town about thirty-six miles from Fort Smith. Mr. Abbott is president of the company, L.A. Seibel is vice-president and C.W. Jones is secretary and treasurer.
Manufacturing, as continued under Mr. Abbott's direction, is at small mills which are suitable for a rough, mountainous country. Among the mills operated, each of which has a capacity of 25,000 to 30,000 feet of lumber a day, are those at Adona, Casa, Homewood, Birta and Ola, Arkansas, on the Choctaw, Oklahoma & Gulf Railroad, a part of the Rock Island System. To finish the output of these sawmills for market a planing mill of 150,000 feet daily capacity is operated, the lumber being transported on a milling-in-transit basis.
An interest in the Fort Smith Lumber Company was sold by Mr. Abbott in 1899 to Alfred Toll, of the Badger Lumber Company, Kansas City, and the proceeds of this sale the progressive young lumberman invested in timber lands. He owns a majority of the stock of the Choctaw Investment Company, which controls about 25,000 acres of unusually fine timber in western Arkansas. It is estimated that the Fort Smith company has sufficient holdings to permit of operations going on at the present capacity for at least fifteen years.
That Mr. Abbott's interests should broaden and include other than those exclusively related to the lumber industry, is not strange, to one of his ambition and energy. Upon the death of his associate in the lumber business, William Blair, in 1903, Mr. Abbott succeeded to the presidency of the American National Bank, of Fort Smith, in which he was a stockholder. Under his administration the affairs of the institution have prospered, as have his lumber interests, and it is now considered one of the soundest financial houses in the Southwest. It was organized in 1887 with a capital stock of $100,000, though this was increased in 1904 to $200,000.
Mr. Abbott is identified with other enterprises of his home city, but there is no denying the fact that his greatest pride is in the Fort Smith Lumber Company. He bought a controlling interest in the Fort Smith Light & Traction Company in June, 1904, and later, with George Sengel, secured all the stock. Seventeen miles of track is operated by the company, which also furnishes the municipal lights and electric power and gas for private consumers. The company has been organized with a capital stock of $1,600,000 and a bond issue of $1,500,000, for the purpose of making material improvements in the road and of increasing its earning power.
As president of the Cameron Coal & Mercantile Company, of Williams, Indian Territory, Mr. Abbott has taken an active part in developing other lines of industry. The town of Williams is located on the Midland Valley Railroad, which was built a few years ago by Philadelphia capitalists and has in operation 250 miles of road. He is interested in this road, over which is shipped about four hundred tons of coal a day from the Cameron company's mines. Among other enterprises Mr. Abbott has had a share in building up the Mansfield Pressed Brick & Terra Cotta Company, of Mansfield, Arkansas, a concern with a capital of $10,000 and an investment of $30,000, and of which he is vice president. He is also interested at Fort Smith in the Ingle Wagon Company, a $100,000 concern; the Fort Smith Refrigerator Works; the Fort Smith Ice and Storage Company, and the Fort Smith Hardwood Manufacturing Company.
To give his personal attention to the affairs of these diversified interests as Mr. Abbott does requires a physique of iron and an active brain. He is a loyal citizen of Fort Smith and participates in every movement to enhance the value of the city as a commercial center. The city has a population of 25,000 and is growing rapidly. It is one of the principal distributing centers of the Southwest, and this young lumberman, banker and business man has devoted no small amount of his time to furthering the prosperity of the place.
Although many interests claim the time and attention of Mr. Abbott, he by no means neglects the social side of life. He is a member of the order of Elks, is a Knight of Pythias and one of the early members of the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo. With his large business interests in the Southwest he has made a wide circle of friends, and a friend to Mr. Abbott is seldom one in name only.
Mr. Abbott took as his bride, on February 9, 1898, Miss Gertrude Reynolds, of Fort Smith. Their married life has been an exceptionally happy one, and their home is a Mecca for their many friends.