Santa Clara Lumber company

Tupper Lake Free Press and Herald, August 13, 1970

Business Crisis Which Brought Dodge And Meigs Interests to Parting of the Ways Recalled in Lumber Co. History

(Ed. note— After digressing briefly to recall the story of the ill-fated Cornell College forestry experiment in the Cross Clearing Axton area, we resume the late Ferris J. Meigs' account of the history of the Santa Clara Lumber company herewith):

"It was in the winter of 1898-99 that an event was shaping which ended in a real tragedy for all the members of that grand old firm of Dodge, Meigs & Co., composed of George E. Dodge, Titus B. Meigs and Ferris J. Meigs.

"Two paper manufacturers of Watertown, —George C. Sherman and David Anderson, of the Taggert Paper Co. had purchased a couple of water-powers on the Black River, near Deferiet, N. Y., and wished to secure a supply of raw material, pulpwood on the stump, and build a pulp.and paper mill. The Santa Clara Lumber Co. had long been anxious to sell its pulpwood lands on the St. Regis River and concentrate its operations on the Raquette River water shed. So, long negotiations were entered into between Dodge, Meigs & Co. and Sherman and Anderson, comprising the Taggert Paper Co., which finally culminated in the formation of the St. Regis Paper Co., combining the water powers on the Black River, and some 58,000 acres of pulpwood lands on the St. Regis River. The purchase sale was consummated.

"The Santa Clara Lumber Co. accepted in payment approximately $360,000.00 in the preferred stock of the St. Regis Paper Co. The deeds transferring these lands were dated May and June, 1899. Dodge, Meigs & Co. as agents were given a block of common stock.

"One episode in this sale was interesting. The Lumber Co. owned on the St. Regis River about 36,000 acres. Sherman wanted more lands, and wouldn't proceed with the negotiations unless we contracted to sell approximately 60,000 acres. It looked like an impasse. Young Meigs, with all the confidence and assurance of youth, said "We will add 22,000 acres, also on the St. Regis River watershed, at the same price, $6.00 per acre", and the deal was made. Mr. T. B. Meigs said nothing until Sherman and Anderson had gone. Then— "What have you done? —We do not own more than 36,000 acres, and you have agreed to sell 58,000 acres!" Young Meigs answered "I believe I know where I can find that 22,000 acres and not lose money". "William T. O'Neil, who had been in the employ of the Santa Clara Lumber Co., had been appointed receiver of the Everton Lumber Co. sometime before, and had for sale 22,000 acres of valuable pulpwood lands. But no price had been set. . . No talk whatever had been passed between him and anyone connected with the Lumber Co. The contract to sell what was not owned was a risky, almost desperate act. Full of courage, young Meigs took the train that afternoon, and the next day sauntered into Mr. O'Neil's office. Talked about everything but pulpwood lands. Finally Mr. O'Neil said "Meigs— I am anxious to clean up this Everton Lumber Co., and I want to sell these pulpwood lands. Up here (at St. Regis Falls) I have no chance to find a customer. Why can't you sell these lands for me?" -"All right, —what's your price?". "I prefer not to pay a commission, but you can have these lands at $2.00 per acre, and when you sell you may keep anything over that for yourself".

"Trying to control his excitement, young Meigs finally agreed, and an option for thirty days was drawn up and signed, under which Meigs had the right to purchase the 22,000 acres of land at $2.00 per acre. Meigs paid a $10 United States bill for the option, and thus secured a legal agreement to buy at $2.00 a tract of land which he had sold the previous day at $6.00, —a handsome profit for his company, and with this added acreage the St. Regis Paper Company secured an adequate supply of raw material for its new enterprise.

"The Santa Clara Lumber Co. divided the preferred stock it had received among its stockholders, and Dodge, Meigs & Co. divided its shares of the common stock. —one-third each— to the three partners.

"The schemer, Sherman, soon realized that Dodge controlled the firm of Dodge, Meigs & Co. by reason of a slight majority interest, and through this advance controlled the Lumber Company as well as the various other corporations in which the firm was interested. Dodge, —weak, self-indulgent, a high liver, was easy prey to Sherman and his blandishments. This rogue became most intimate with this weakling.- and finally prevailed upon Dodge to attempt to take over the management of Dodge, Meigs & Company, and oust the Messrs. Meigs.

"So it happened that one day, after a bracing lunch. Dodge walked into the office and announced that he and Sherman were taking over the management of all the firm's interests: that the Messrs. Meigs might take away personal belongings from their desks, and that they need not appear again. The shock, the grief, the surprise, the great danger, the heartlessness, the utter lack of consideration, or even decency on the part of Dodge, nearly overpowered that grand, good man, Mr. Titus B. Meigs. After a generation of closest business and social intimacy with Mr. George E. Dodge and his brothers, his father and mother, and their families, after aiding Dodge so constantly, and successfully protecting and sustaining him so many years, to be thrown out, without a word, and with no reason at all. —that was tragic! It was so heartless, —so cruel.

"At first there seemed to be no escape from the calamity. Young Meigs had had so few years association with Dodge that he felt the heartache less, but the financial danger far more, for his all was involved. He would not take it lying down. He would fight.

"Knowing Dodge well, that he had a better, more generous nature than his act indicated, and backed by the sound, conciliatory advice and help of Mr. John P. Badger, he undertook to secure a more favorable settlement. Weeks went by. The Messrs. Meigs went as usual to their office. Mr. Dodge only flitted in occasionally. He knew enough to keep at arm's length. But negotiations were proceeding almost continuously. "Finally Dodge agreed to a division of interests, on a far more just basis. He taking ALL of the stock of each concern that he took over, and the Meigses taking all of the companies that remained. Cash and notes adjusted any balances. So it finally transpired that the Meigses, father and son, became sole stockholders of the Santa Clara Lumber Co. and one or two other concerns, and Dodge took all of the stock of the St. Regis Paper Co. belonging to the Meigses, and other small holdings. The common stock of the St. Regis Paper Co., though having only prospective value, went to Dodge on the basis of $30 per share . . . That helped.

"But then the devil's hand of Sherman appeared. He desired all the pulpwood on the Lumber Company's lands on the Raquette River watershed, and was bound to have it. Dodge, having in sight as owner the large block of preferred and common stock of the St. Regis Paper Co., and pressed by Sherman, stood out for a contract covering all the pulpwood on the lumber company's lands on the Raquette. No persuasion, no fight, no argument moved him, and in order to have a complete divorce, the Meigses, against their judgment and unwillingly, finally agreed, and a contract was made with the St. Regis Paper Co. A complete separation from Dodge was accomplished. That contract provided that Sherman should furnish the cash to finance the operations of the Lumber Co. in the woods. That, he could not, or would not. do. A suit to abrogate the contract was instituted by the Lumber Co., and Mr. Henry W. Jessup of New York. City, a lawyer, was engaged to prosecute the case. Jessup was not equal to this task, and no match for Eton R. Brown and Judge Purcell, his associate, who were fighting for the paper company. The case had its ups and downs, through the lesser and higher courts, until it became evident that it was best to have a settlement.

"Mr. Will Lyford, brother of the son-in-law of Mr. Meigs, and Senator Spooner of Wisconsin were empowered to make a settlement. And a settlement was made which severed all ties with Dodge and Sherman, but at a terrible cost! Over $250,000.00 it took, and again the cash situation of the Lumber Company was acute . . . But kind providence helped again. The debt was paid by placing a mortgage on their timberlands, and by personal loans of the Messrs. Meigs. So the Lumber Company putted through that storm which threatened a shipwreck, and through the gloom there shone a ray of hope, that with courage, thrift, hard work and good seamanship, the haven would be reached. The years that followed proved the wisdom of this course". {Continued in our next issue),