HENRY J. LUTCHER:
SAWMILLER AND ARCHITECT OF ORANGE, TEXAS
By W. T. Block
Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, November 9, 1980, p. 6-C.
On February 1, 1877, the Galveston "Daily News" observed that
H. J. Lutcher, G. Bedell Moore and Thomas Rathwell, mill men of Pennsylvania, had spent
the previous week touring "throughout our pineries on the Neches, Angelina, and
Sabine Rivers." "They are thinking of coming to Texas" was the editor's
casual remark at the end, a comment which may yet win top honors as the understatement of
the nineteenth century. More than a century later, the city of Orange, Texas, is still
reaping the bounteous fruits of that initial visit.
In 1860, Orange was a thriving community with five steam mills, 150
neatly-painted cottages, a shipyard, and two schools, boasting a population of 600
persons. But events of the Civil War were soon to bring unbelievable economic reverses.
Three companies of Orange soldiers marched away to fight in Virginia, but only about six
of them survived the war and returned. To add insult to its wartime adversities, a giant
storm struck the city on September 13, 1865, killing and maiming many people and reducing
to rubble all but four buildings. Following defeat, despair and lawlessness were the
town's sole rewards, and by 1870, Orange County's population had dropped to 1,255, a loss
of 700 souls.
In 1873, only three small mills at Orange, those of W. B. Black, R. E.
Russell and Sons, and A. Gilmer, turned out modest quantities of lumber and shingles, all
of which were exported coastwise by water. But in November, 1876, the last rail link
connecting Houston with Orange was completed, giving the latter city access to the lumber
markets of Texas' interior cities. As of that year, there was still a huge reservoir of
virgin forest monarchs, containing a billion feet of pine and cypress stumpage in Orange
County and thirty-five billion more straddling both sides of the Sabine River to the
Within months of the rail linkup, a number of sawmills, including
Lutcher and Moore's Star and Crescent mill were completed, and by 1879, timber processing
there had skyrocketed to 82,000,000 shingles and 75,000,000 board feet of lumber annually.
With nine sawmills and six shingle mills located there by 1881, Orange emerged as the
timber-processing capitol of the South, a position it would maintain for the next forty
Henry Joachim Lutcher was born on November 4, 1836, at Williamsport,
Pennsylvania, the son of Lewis and Barbara Lutcher, who were German immigrants. Between
1857 and 1862, young Lutcher accumulated a modest nest egg of $15,000, the profits from
his farming and slaughter house activities.
In 1862, he began his first sawmill venture at Williamsport in
partnership with John Waltman. Two years later, Moore purchased Waltman's interest, and
the Lutcher and Moore Lumber Company was born. With a $50,000 profit that the partners
realized from lumber sales and cattle-buying, they came to Texas in January, 1877, to
investigate the availability of large tracts of virgin timber. They quickly learned that
in areas to the north large forests were available at from $1 to $2 an acre. In areas not
adjacent to the river, pine forests of trees five feet in diameter were a drug on the
sales market, sometimes valued as little as 25-cents an acre and not considered by farmers
as worth paying taxes on. Hence, Orange became the logical choice for their Texas
expansion because of its easy access to raw materials, which could be rafted down river,
and to markets, both by rail and coastwise lumber schooner.
At a horseshoe crescent on the Sabine River, Lutcher built a modern
50,000 foot mill, installing double circular saws, one 22-gang saw, two boilers and a
250-horsepower steam engine. He also added a sash and door factory next door, which
employed fifteen men, and a shingle-making machine.
The sixty sawmill employees were kept busy twelve months of each year.
When the supply of saw logs thinned out, they simply doubled as lumberjacks, felling the
cypress and pine giants in the forests and swamps and rafting the logs down river. In
1880, a normal work day was about 11 1/2 hours, for which unskilled laborers received
$1.50 daily and skilled workers, $3.50 daily. In 1879, the Star and Crescent mill
manufactured 15 million feet of lumber and 7.5 million wood lathes, worth $150,000.
Lutcher bought up more than a half-million acres of valuable timber
lands in north Calcasieu and Beauregard Parishes in Louisiana and built 100 miles of tram
road known as the Gulf, Sabine and Red River Railroad. At the peak of logging operations
after 1900, more than 500 men were employed as loggers in the Calcasieu forests.
Lutcher and Moore utilized ten locomotives and 151 flat log cars in the
tram activities, contracting out most of their forest operations after 1885 on the basis
of the number of logs rafted to the sawmill's log booms in the Sabine River. During the
1890's, Arbogast and Craddock, headquartered at Fields, La., were the prime contractors.
By 1905, the latter had been superceded by the Sanders and Trotti Tram Company, who
founded Starks, La., as a logging camp for their employees.
During the 1880s, when a fifty square-mile tract of virgin cypress
swamp became available near the Mississippi River for taxes due, Lutcher purchased it, and
in 1889, he built a 100,000-foot sawmill in St. James Parish at a town he named for
himself. Lutcher, La., is still a thriving community on the east bank of the river between
Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Lutcher also built the Orange and Northwestern Tram Road in order to
get to timber reserves in Orange and Jasper counties. This line eventually became the
railroad to Buna. By 1890, the Lutcher and Moore Lumber Company was cutting 250,000 feet
of lumber daily in three states, but a gradual phasing out of the Williamsport, Pa.,
facility soon began.
In 1858, the pioneer sawmiller married his hometown sweetheart, Frances
Ann Robinson. According to Lutcher, her sound business judgment was to become a principal
instrument for the accomplishment of his many economic successes. The Lutcher-Robinson
marriage produced two daughters, namely, Miriam, who became Mrs. W. H. Stark, and Carrie
Launa, who married Dr. E. W. Brown. They and their descendants have remained at the helm
of Orange's cultural and economic life to the present day.
Lutcher soon bought out his partner and in 1890 Moore moved to San
Antonio. In the same year the company was incorporated under a Texas charter, with Lutcher
as president; Dr. Brown as vice president; W. H. Stark as secretary-treasurer and chief
operating officer; and F. H. Farwell and John Dibert as sales representatives.
In 1905 the Beaumont "Enterprise" observed that W. H. Stark
was "the moving spirit of the company. He is thoroughly familiar with all the details
of the manufacture of lumber, is a fine organizer, and understands the handling of
Fortunately, that newspaper has also documented the history and
statistics of this huge firm down to its lowest clerk. In 1905, Lutcher's Sabine River
facilities included two giant mills, known respectively as the "upper" and
"lower" sawmills, and each with a daily cut of 150,000 feet. By that year the
Lutcher-Moore Lumber Company was shipping in excess of 125,000,000 feet of lumber
annually. The horsepower of the steam engines alone footed up to 1,200, and the main
engine at the upper mill had a unique history of its own. Ironically, it was one of the
instruments used during that cruel (Civil) war which had leveled the city of Orange
economically; perhaps justly, it was destined to live on and help restore that city to its
rightful position at the court of 'King Lumber.'
In 1855, the 400-horsepower marine steam engine had been mounted in the
1,800-bale, Trinity River steamboat "Josiah H. Bell," which was actually a
deepsea steamer with a solid oak, V-bottom hull. In 1862, the "Bell" became a
cotton-clad gunboat at Sabine Pass, where it remained until the Confederacy surrendered.
When the war ended in April, 1865, the steamer was in an Orange
shipyard, undergoing conversion to a blockade-runner. On May 25, 1865, its engine was
removed, and the hull was then towed four miles downstream and scuttled to prevent its
capture by the Federal occupation forces who were at that moment coming ashore. In 1905,
the engine had been in almost continuous use for fifty years without suffering so much as
a sheared pin.
Each Sabine River mill was identically-equipped with double-circular
and band saws. The planer mill could process 125,000 feet daily, while the steam kilns
could dry 65,000 feet daily. About 360 men were employed in the saw and planer mills, and
500 more logged the forests and rafted the floating logs to Orange. By 1905 the standard
work day had decreased to ten hours, and pay day came every Saturday, with a monthly wage
expenditure exceeding $22,000.
Although Lutcher remained active as a mill man until old age, his
sons-in-law, especially Stark, gradually assume the greater burden of responsibility. His
sizeable fortune enabled him to pursue many cultural activities which he found
fascinating. For instance, he was an avid reader, and his palatial home overlooking the
Sabine River contained a magnificent library of classical volumes unsurpassed in East
Texas. He was one of the earliest exponents of deep water, and as early as 1882, appeared
before congressional committees, seeking funds for jetty-building and deep channelization
of the river bars.
Lutcher died in Ohio in 1912 at age 78. His widow survived him for ten
years, during which time she became involved in a number of philanthropic enterprises.
Space will not permit a detailed account of the Lutcher family philanthropies, but they
included the Frances Ann Lutcher Memorial Hospital and the domed Memorial Presbyterian
Church. And through the Stark and Brown Foundations, the fruits of Lutcher's labors are
filtering down to the present generations. The Stark home has been preserved in its
original form. Lutcher Stark, a grandson, was an avid collector of western art and Indian
artifacts, and today these are all housed in the new Stark Museum. The Stark Theatre is
another gift to the city of Orange. And the showplace home of the late Edgar Brown, Jr.,
as well as a million dollar endowment to maintain it, is now one of the most prized
properties of Lamar University.
H. J. Lutcher was a man with a dream and possessed the keen business
acumen and other qualities to make that dream come true. And because a large share of his
estate has been passed on for the benefit of posterity, a little corner of Southeast Texas
is much better off by the fact that Henry Joachim Lutcher passed this way. One of the most
recent bequests of the Stark Foundation was a $12,500 grant to the Texas Forestry Museum