Edward S. Crossett
A man who has spent the fifty most active years of his life in a single industry in one section of the country with ultimately fortunate results to himself, certainly must have assisted in the development of that industry and have won a place for himself in the history of that locality. Such a man is Edward Savage Crossett, of Davenport, Iowa, who for a half century has played a conspicuous part in the lumber business of the Mississippi valley. Mr. Crossett was born in West Plattsburg, Clinton county, New York, February 4, 1828, near the scene of the battle of Plattsburg, in which his father, John Savage Crossett, participated actively as a soldier in the American army in the War of 1812.
Mr. Crossett received his education in the public schools and in an academy. His first employment was in the printing office of Bardwell & Kneeland, at Troy; this work, however, he abandoned on account of failing health and secured a position as clerk in a shoe store at a salary of $2.50 a month and board.
In 1846, when eighteen years of age, he went to Schroon Lake, New York, as clerk in a village store and two years later he and his brother purchased the establishment. In this place he first became interested in the lumber business, handling pine and spruce lumber in small quantities and doing some logging.
At the age of twenty-two Mr. Crossett turned the business over to his brother and went west. From Cincinnati he journeyed by steamer to St. Louis, and in the spring of 1852 to St. Paul. From there he went to La Crosse, Wisconsin, where he remained a year and six months. In the meantime his brother had sold the property in the East at a loss, leaving young Crossett handicapped with debts; but with the restiveness of an honest nature under the weight of debt, Edward shouldered the obligations and eventually paid them off to the last dollar.
In the fall of 1853 Mr. Crossett went to Black River Falls, Wisconsin, where he took charge of a supply store for lumbermen. He was in entire command of this enterprise, from the making of contracts for supplies to the sale of the goods. His experience as a merchant in the Adirondack mountains was of good service to him in this situation, and so satisfactory was his work that his employers united their four stores into one and gave the management of it to Mr. Crossett.
From 1854 until 1856 he was postmaster of Black River Falls, and in the latter year associated himself with W. T. Price in a supply store business of their own.
In the year 1857 he resumed work for his former employers. Then came a period of reverses in which Mr. Crossett suffered heavy losses. The freshet of the following year swept the company's logs down the river and out of reach. As a consequence the company itself was forced to suspend operations and to go into bankruptcy. A portion of Mr. Crossett's capital and two years' salary were sunk in the general collapse.
In 1859 he started a supply store of his own, but was burned out shortly thereafter with a complete loss of stock and building. Still undaunted, Mr. Crossett gathered up the threads of his ravelled business and attempted to weave them together again. Succeeding in obtaining the equivalent of some bills due him in the shape of lumber and hewn timber, he rafted it down the river in 1861 and sold it where he could; but was obliged to take in exchange " stump tail currency," which depreciated to 10 percent before he could dispose of it. Thus Mr. Crossett's first eight years in the West brought him little more than valuable experience.
In this same year Mr. Crossett was employed to assist J. E. Lindsay, who was shortly thereafter joined in partnership by J. B. Phelps. Subsequently Mr. Crossett was connected with other concerns until 1870. For several years he ran the yards of Isaac Spaulding in East St. Louis, spending his winters in picking up stock on Black river.
From 1870 to 1875 he engaged in the scaling of logs and estimating of timber, buying parcels of timber land whenever such were available and seemed valuable.
In 1873 Mr. Crossett was united in marriage to Miss Harmony E. Clark, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and from that auspicious day he declares his real prosperity dates. The two made their home in Nielsville, Wisconsin, until February, 1875, when they moved to Davenport, Iowa, where Mr. Crossett became a member of the firm of Renwick, Shaw & Crossett. Their son, Edward Clark Crossett, was born at Davenport, August 7, 1882. The same year marks Mr. Crossett's first investment in yellow pine, at which time he was one of the organizers of the Lindsay Land & Lumber Company.
In 1884 Renwick, Shaw & Crossett bought a saw mill and pine lands at Cloquet, Minnesota. Two years later Mr. Crossett sold his interest to Mr. Shaw, taking in part payment 10,000 acres of Arkansas lands covered with yellow pine. In the opinion of Mr. Crossett's friends he had made a great mistake in acquiring Arkansas property, but subsequent events proved the soundness of his judgment.
Convinced by further personal inspection that the possibilities in yellow pine were great, he became extensively interested in other companies operating in the South. Already a heavy stockholder in the Eagle Lumber Company, of Eagle Mills, Arkansas, and the Gates Lumber Company of Wilmar, Arkansas, he, in company with C. W. Gates and J. W. Watzek, purchased the Fordyce Lumber Company, of Fordyce, Arkansas, in 1892.
Cooperation has always been Mr. Crossett's hobby. Like William Morris, its modern apostle, he believed that the profits accruing from an enterprise should in some equitable way be divided among those responsible for them. In 1899, the Crossett Lumber Company, of Crossett, Arkansas, was organized on a cooperative basis not as the result of any dreaming of a modern Utopia, but as a business proposition, and partly, no doubt, because of his own long bout with the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. " In this cooperative organization, Messrs. Crossett, Watzek and Gates held three-fourths of the stock and certain employees the other one-fourth. In recognition of Mr. Crossett's generosity, fine sense of justice in this decidedly self-centered age, and of his kindly advice always freely given, his associates conferred on the company and its town the name of Crossett.
More recently Mr. Crossett has further extended his holdings and, as an influential member of the Jackson Lumber Company, of Lockhart, Alabama, invested with his associates, in 150,000 acres of virgin timber in Alabama and Florida. Together with Messrs. Watzek and Gates, the two remaining members, he built a large saw mill plant at Lockhart, Alabama, and otherwise developed the property.