Robert H. Downman
It cannot be denied that there is quite often an element of chance in the most successful working out of human affairs. However, while it may be true that circumstances may bring to a man success in a certain line of business, it is almost a foregone conclusion that he would have been quite as successful in any other line if he had devoted to it the same sound judgment, energy, skill in organizing and tact in managing men that he devoted to the one which fate seems to have flung into his lap.
Robert Henry Downman, of New Orleans, Louisiana, made his start in business life as a druggist, but Cupid, who is always playing pranks, made him a lumberman and cypress specialist.
Mr. Downman was born near Warrenton, Fauquier county, Virginia, and was educated at the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, at Blacksburg. He was one of a family of nine children. He entered the employ of a hardware and lumber concern at Warrenton and continued there until he was twenty years of age, when he moved to Texas, entering the retail drug business at Bryan. In 1880 he moved to Waco, in the same state, where he at first clerked in a drug store and later embarked in the retail drug business for himself. He sold this business in the summer of 1882 and entered the office of J. W. Castles & Co., wholesale druggists at Waco. In 1883 the company was absorbed by Cameron, Castles & Story, Mr. Downman becoming manager of the drug department. In 1886 this department was sold to Behrens & Castles, but Mr. Downman continued to represent Mr. Castles' interests in the firm until 1889.
On June 6, 1888, he married Miss Anna S. Cameron, the second daughter of the late William Cameron, at the family home at Waco, and in February, 1889, he transferred his business activities to the wholesale and retail lumber business of William Cameron & Co., becoming a junior partner. In 1897 William Cameron & Co. was dissolved and Mr. Downman had full charge of the business until William Cameron's death in February, 1899. From that time until December, 1900, he was the managing executor of the William Cameron estate for the heirs.
In the fall of 1900 it was decided to divide the estate among the widow, the four daughters and the son. This was accordingly done, and in this division the yellow pine and cypress interests were separated completely, Mr. Downman acquiring in his wife's right the entire cypress business of the deceased with the exception of a block of stock in the Whitecastle, Louisiana, property, which was held by the Camerons at Waco until their entire interest in this property was acquired by Mr. Downman and his associates in June, 1902. The cypress properties falling to Mr. Downman were the great saw milling plant and timber lands located at Bowie, Louisiana, the Cameron holdings in the Jeanerette Lumber & Shingle Company, at Jeanerette, Louisiana, and a proportionate division of the stock in the Whitecastle Lumber & Shingle Company, at Whitecastle.
A notable event incident to this great consolidation was the almost immediate incorporation of the Bowie Lumber Company, Limited, with a capital of $1,000,000, Mr. Downman becoming president of the new corporation. This was quickly followed by the purchase of the Des Allemands property, which was acquired in November, 1900, for the purpose of securing additional timber lands for the benefit of the Bowie plant. This purchase was made from Francis Martin and included the saw milling plant, which was subsequently incorporated under the name of the Des Allemands Lumber Company, Limited. The purchase of the P. L. Renoudet Cypress Lumber Company plant at New Iberia was made by Mr. Downman in December of the same year. It included from 250,000,000 to 300,000,000 feet of standing timber and was soon afterward incorporated under the name of the Iberia Cypress Company, Limited. Mr. Downman is president of all these companies.
The line of action as a cypress operator mapped out by Mr. Downman was upon a large scale, and he has carried it out with remarkable success since its inception. It means cypress timber holdings in Louisiana aggregating 800,000,000 feet of stumpage, with an annual manufacturing output of 90,000,000 feet of red cypress lumber, 180,000,000 shingles and 22,500,000 lath, all of which Mr. Downman directly controls. It also means the development of the cypress business in the hands of one man on a scale undreamed of a decade ago, and it places this great consolidated interest in the foremost rank of cypress manufacture.
The cypress interests of the late William Cameron fell into good hands when Mr. Downman received them. Already the great milling and timber interests of the deceased Scotchman have multiplied by 50 percent under Mr. Downman's aggressive management, and the end is not yet. His plans are for still further enlargement of his properties and for still further establishment of wholesale distributing offices throughout the territory where cypress lumber is used or will be used. He has surrounded himself with able managers men who have had long experience in the manufacture of cypress lumber as well as men who thoroughly understand how to market it. He is at present, in 1905, adding new machinery to his mills and widening the scope of his operations in various other ways.
Mr. Downman's personal headquarters are at New Orleans, Louisiana, where he maintains his offices and from whence he directs his managers. The offices are modest and unpretentious for a lumberman controlling such large milling plants. The legend on the doors of the rooms, which are located in the Liverpool, London & Globe building, is simply "R. H. Downman." One who is uninitiated in lumber affairs would never dream that they are the general headquarters where orders and instructions are issued to five great cypress mills.
But the facts are typical of the man. He makes no pretension of power but simply goes ahead, working on the plans he has drawn, without the blare of a trumpet or other ostentatious methods not strictly necessary.
The milling plants absolutely controlled by Mr. Downman are the Cypress King mill, at Bowie, Louisiana, under the name of the Bowie Lumber Company, Limited; the Jeanerette Lumber & Shingle Company, Limited, at Jeanerette, Louisiana; the Des Allemands Lumber Company, Limited, at Des Allemands, Louisiana; the Iberia Cypress Company, Limited, at New Iberia, Louisiana, and the Whitecastle Lumber & Shingle Company, Limited, at Whitecastle, Louisiana.