William A. Fletcher.
Every habit and faculty is preserved and increased by corresponding action as the habit of walking, by walking; of running, by running." So may it be said that a man's business ability and shrewdness are intensified by years of application; and the wider the experience the more fully developed are these qualities. That the faculties, after long training, do not become dulled even when a tight hold on the reins of various enterprises is relinquished has been indicated times innumerable and it is particularly true in the case of William Andrew Fletcher, of Beaumont, Texas.
While Mr. Fletcher is now not actively engaged in the lumber or timber business, having retired a half dozen years ago to spend, in the quiet of his own fireside, a well-earned rest after more than two score years spent in one of the busiest walks of life, perhaps not in the entire Southwest is there a man better known than he in the lumber trade. Though he is not personally directing any of the enterprises with which he is connected in Beaumont, yet his guiding hand is felt if not seen.
He is the son of Thomas Fletcher and Eliza (Miller) Fletcher, the former having been born in North Carolina and the latter in Tennessee. The father participated in one engagement in the Mexican War and upon its close moved from Texas to St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, where W. A. Fletcher was born, April 23, 1839. The senior Fletcher operated water-power sawmills. The mother died when the boy was five years old, and in 1856 the family moved to Wiessbluff, Jasper County, Texas. Young Fletcher farmed, cut cordwood, fished and hunted for a livelihood. One season he cut and floated cypress timber for Hardy & Heart to Beaumont, and from the money he thus made paid for a short session at school.
He tried piloting on steamers plying the Neches and Sabine rivers. He also assisted in rebuilding the first sawmill that was erected in Beaumont. In payment for his services he was obliged to accept a lot of lumber cut by the mill. This mill was brought in by Ross & Alexander, but, after fire had wrecked the plant, the mill and site were bought by J. M. Long and F. L. Carroll.
At the outbreak of the Civil War Mr. Fletcher went from Beaumont to Liberty, where he enlisted in Company F of’ the Fifth Texas Infantry, which became a part of Hood's Brigade, Longstreet's Division. He was twice wounded and twice captured. He was released from capture the first time because in his wounded condition he was unable to travel, but the second time he fell into the hands of the enemy he was held thirty days. He made his escape by jumping from a moving train at night while being taken north. After the battle of Chickamauga he was transferred from the infantry to the cavalry service, owing to his disabilities, and became a member of Company E, Perry's Rangers, and served until the close of the war.
Returning to Beaumont, Mr. Fletcher started to work as a wheelwright, forming a short-lived partnership with a Mr. Adkins. He continued in this line of business until business became so poor he could scarcely earn a living. He then found employment in the sawmill operated by Long & Son, where he had charge of the surfacing and matching machines. He proved an efficient workman and it was not long before he had charge of all the manufacturing. In June, 1873, he secured an interest in the business. The sawmill of Long & Son was sold to F. L. Carroll and after the death of J. M. Long, the son, the business of Long & Co. was consolidated with that of Carroll. Subsequently, Long & Co. incorporated under the title of the Long Manufacturing Company, after the shingle plant of Smyth & Black had been secured. Another sawmill venture of Mr. Fletcher's was in connection with the Beaumont Lumber Company, which for many years operated one of the largest and best equipped plants in southwestern Texas, every detail of which was constructed under his personal supervision.
After running the Beaumont mill for some time Mr. Fletcher disposed of the property and built a mill of larger capacity at Village Mills, thirty-five miles north of Beaumont, on what was then the Sabine & East Texas Railway, but now the Sabine division of the Southern Pacific. During the period of this mill's active existence it broke all previous mill records by sawing 255,403 feet of lumber in eleven hours' actual running time. The feat created much discussion in lumber circles and won for the gentleman who accomplished the record-making event an enviable reputation as a practical lumberman. Later, Mr. Fletcher assisted in the formation of the Tram & Lumber Company which afterward became known as the Texas Tram & Lumber Company and then consolidated with the Village Mills Company and the Eagle mills, of Beaumont.
More than one of the magnificent lumber enterprises now doing business at Beaumont are controlled by men who learned their trade under Mr. Fletcher, and the same system that was followed by him years ago in the management of his various lumber enterprises is adhered to by many of the Beaumont lumber companies. Mr. Fletcher is known as the father of the present standard lumber gauges in Texas, and, although the system has been assailed often and vigorously, it still is recognized as being correct by practical millmen throughout the country. He also originated the idea of sizing dimension stuff and boards at the mill before stacking, by means of which the cost of rehandling was saved. He also perfected a log hauling and loading machine which is in use by many first-class sawmills in various sections of the country.
Another important feature in Mr. Fletcher's business career is the active interest he has always taken in the matter of the timber export trade between Beaumont and foreign countries, his view being that, inasmuch as Beaumont had in adjacent territory an inexhaustible supply of pine and hardwood timber, no reasons existed why a great and profitable export trade between Beaumont and European ports should not be inaugurated. By Mr. Fletcher's own investigations and personal efforts an export trade was started at Beaumont and now nearly every mill of consequence in all the southeastern Texas lumber section does more or less exporting.
He was untiring in his earnest efforts for some kind of organization among the lumber manufacturers during and immediately following the financial depressions of 1893. The plans advocated by him at that time have been perfected in the various lumber organizations of the country and today, as a result of practical organization, lumbermen are in better touch and understanding with one another than almost any other class of business men.
In politics Mr. Fletcher is what is known as a " sound money Democrat" and, while he has never made any attempt to air his opinions, he did not hesitate during the free silver campaigns of 1896 and 1900 to let the people know exactly how he stood and what he believed with reference to the adoption of the policies embodied in the free silver platforms of those years.
Mr. Fletcher is not entirely out of the lumber business, as he owns stock in the Keith Lumber Company, of Voth, Texas, of which his son, E. A. Fletcher, is president, together with several million feet of timber.
With reference to Mr. Fletcher's home life it can truthfully be said that it approximates the ideal in every respect. He married Miss Julia Long early in his lumber career, and five children, four boys and one girl, have been born to them. Having practically retired from the cares of business, Mr. Fletcher is taking his ease in the circle of his own household. He built an attractive place on the east bank of the Neches River, eight miles above Beaumont, where he spends much of his time in fishing and hunting.