Friday, December 19, 2014


FRANK B. WILLIAMS was born January 18, 1849 in Shiloh, Alabama.  His parents were CHARLES WILLIAMS and EMILY CAROLINA MOORE. Frank had 1 brother and 2 sisters, George, Freddie May, and Ellen. His mother was my 2nd Great Grandfather’s sister making him my first cousin 3 times removed.





Frank B. Williams, was called the cypress lumber king.  Frank came from a long line of lumbermen who, for four generations, had owned saw-mills in the Northeast. Charles Williams, Frank's father, had moved to Alabama and operated mills at Shiloh and Citronelle before his untimely death in 1861, when Frank was twelve years old. Mrs. Williams and her four children moved to Mobile where she taught school to provide for the family. Her son, named Francis Bennett Williams but known as Frank B., went to work as soon as possible to augment the family's meager income. 


Frank was first employed in the construction department of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. Studying at night and working by day, he gained knowledge of surveying and engineering and later was hired by the civil engineering department of the contractors building the Louisville and Nashville Railroad into New Orleans. In 1869, during a period of major railroad expansion, he went to work on Charles Morgan's Louisiana and Texas Railroad, which was being built across the bayou country west of New Orleans.


While Frank B. Williams was working for the Louisiana and Texas Railroad Company in Patterson, Louisiana the company went out of business.


In this part of Louisiana were acres upon acres of cypress trees and Frank saw the potential in harvesting the trees. He persuaded railroad officials that financing a new partnership would result in increased traffic for the line, besides availing the railroad of a steady and dependable supply of timbers and lumber for their own use, at a good price.


In 1872 he formed a partnership with Captain John N. Pharr, a sugar planter and owner of a fleet of steamboats.  In 1892, following twenty years of partnership, Williams bought out Captain Pharr's interest.  From that point on, the Williams lumber enterprises would be solely owned by Frank B. and his family.


He had married Emily Seyburn of Patterson July 11, 1876, and from this marriage came four sons who eventually took over the vast operations. As the sole owner, Frank Williams steadily expanded his land holdings and mills until he owned more than 86,000 acres (conservatively estimated at more than a billion board feet) and four huge sawmills at Patterson, Garden City, Arabi, and Ponchatoula, Louisiana.




An artist's view of the cypress mill at Patterson, Louisiana, appeared in AMERICAN LUMBERMAN in 1911


Frank B. and Emily Seyburn Williams had one daughter and six sons, but only four of the sons survived infancy, and the daughter lived only one day.  The surviving sons were Charles Seyburn, born October 12 1878, Laurence Moore born November 1, 1880, Lewis Kemper born September 23, 1887 and Harry Palmerston born October 6, 1880.


For many years Frank Williams had been closely connected with business interests in New Orleans, especially the Whitney Central Bank of which he was president.  In 1913 he and his wife left Patterson for New Orleans, and he turned over the actual mill operations to his sons.


The inevitable had to be faced; the virgin cypress was rapidly disappearing, consumed by the nation’s ever increasing demand for the wood.  Hastened by the Great Depression, most of the states cypress mills closed between 1929 and 1932.  The first of the Williams Lumber companies closed in 1929. Frank Williams, unlike most of the other millers, kept his cutover cypress land – and the right to the oil and gas that was found beneath it.  He also had a few other interests, not the least of which was substantial stock in Whitney Bank.


Frank B. Williams died at his home on St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana on January 31, 1929.  His home is now the Milton H. Latter Branch of the New Orleans Public Library.


According to the Times-Picayune Newspaper dated February 2, 1929, Frank B. Williams was buried in the Metairie Cemetery, Louisiana.

1 comment:

  1. Very thoughtfully written article! FBW was my great grandfather and Charles S Williams was my grandfather.