Hodge-Hunt Story (HHLC-S)

(The complete history will be published in an historical volume by Nicholas Ducote, to be published in 2015.)

Beginnings in Arkadelphia, Ar. and Hodge, La.

The southern-born entrepreneurial leaders of the Huie-Hodge cohort trained in South Arkansas before establishing their own Huie-Hodge Lumber Company.  Five of the primary partners in the Huie-Hodge Lumber Co.’s first decade – Robert W. Huie, Charles E. Neeley, Otis E. Hodge, John S. Hunt, and James B. Baker – met and trained at the Arkadelphia Lumber Company in Greysonia, Clark County, Arkansas.  Robert W. Huie began his life in rural Waldron, Scot­t County, Arkansas, served in the Confederacy, and then became a schoolteacher. Huie amassed a personal fortune between 1866 and 1885 by establishing various merchant firms and selling them for a profit.  He organized the Arkadelphia Lumber Company in 1886, sold a controlling interest to William Grayson in 1888, and sold out completely in 1902 before setting up the permanent mill in Hodge.  Huie also served as the auditor for the Arkansas Southern railroad in 1901.  Charles E. Neeley was born in Marion City, Missouri in 1851 and attended Whipple Academy in Jacksonville, Florida after attending public school through high school.  Neeley married the only daughter of S.W. Reyburn, a wealthy Little Rock businessman and president of Union Trust Co.  Neeley spent the first twelve years of his professional career working in a variety of positions for the Chicago and Alton the Iron Mountain railroads, which included agent, operator, relief agent, and district operator. In 1886, Neeley resigned from Iron Mountain and began investing in short-line railroads, lumber firms, and banks in South Arkansas.  In 1888, he started Citizen’s Bank of Arkadelphia with R.W. Huie.  Four years later, in 1892, Neeley helped incorporate the South Arkansas Lumber Co. (President) and the Arkansas Southern Railroad (vice-president and traffic manager).  O. E. Hodge was born the son of a farmer in 1874, and by 1898, was working as a saw operator at the Arkadelphia Lumber Company.  Born in 1873 in Natchitoches, Louisiana, J.S. Hunt moved to Arkansas in 1880 to live with his maternal grandfather in Arkadelphia, who was a local merchant.[v] At the age of twenty-three, in 1897, he began work at the Arkadelphia Lumber Co. as a railcar loader and was promoted to shipping clerk before his departure to North Louisiana. J. B. Baker, born in Pike County Arkansas in 1878, worked as a slab trucker for Arkadelphia Lumber Co. in early-1900 before leaving with the cohort. The Huie-Hodge cohort began their lives as relatively poor southerners. However, their training in southern Arkansas allowed them to establish successful businesses across North Louisiana and the South before the turn of the century.

 In 1899, the Huie-Hodge cohort constructed and operated a temporary mill in Macedonia, Louisiana, until constructing a permanent mill two miles south in Hodge. Hodge, J.S. Hunt, and J. L. Williams built a mill in Macedonia (now Jonesboro) where they operated for two years, with Hodge and Williams as the primary investors. J. L. Williams, born in 1868, operated his first lumber mill at age fourteen. In 1890, at the age of twenty-two, Williams “employed four men with a regular output of eight logs chopped with axes per day […] about 2,000 board feet.” Williams invested in mills across Ouachita, Dallas, and Nevada counties in Arkansas, but only remained in Macedonia with the Huie-Hodge cohort for two years.   Sometime in 1901, before the completion of the Hodge mill, typhoid fever broke out in the Macedonia region and Williams left town, selling his share in the company to Robert Huie. The 1901 transition to the Hodge mill attracted a conglomerate of businessmen from the South Arkansas Lumber Co., the Arkansas Southern railroad, and the Arkadelphia Lumber Co.  The new conglomerate, made up of Robert W. Huie, Charles E. Neeley, Otis E. Hodge, and C.A. Bowman, invested $50,000 to incorporate the Huie-Hodge Lumber Co. in Hodge.

The Huie-Hodge conglomerate did not last long in its original form, and in 1903, O. E. Hodge and J. S. Hunt, sold their shares and started a series of temporary sawmills. In 1904, Huie-Hodge added a planer to the Hodge mill, which increased the mill’s daily capacity from 75,000 board feet to 125,000 board feet. They used the planer to process hardwoods into high-quality edge grain floorboards, which they sold in northeastern markets and those near Chicago. In 1906, Hodge and Hunt bought out Huie and Neeley’s interests in Huie-Hodge Lumber Co. and became the co-owners.


In 1911, Huie-Hodge linked the mills together along the North Louisiana and Gulf railroad, which enabled better access to railroad resources.  Between 1909 and 1911, Huie-Hodge invested $107,000 to construct a sixteen-mile railroad line between Danville and Walsh. These systems were used to access Huie-Hodge’s main retail markets, which were in “Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio,” and half of the timber was sent to wholesale markets in the southwestern states, where new construction was booming.  The construction allowed them to choose rates competitively from a number of carriers—including the Louisiana Northwestern, Queen & Crescent, Cotton Belt, or Texas & Pacific systems. The new construction opened Huie-Hodge up to “a better rate Ohio river crossings” and would “increase its shipments into Kentucky.”[viii]  It also gave Huie-Hodge better access to box cars, which were in short supply. With the new railroad routes secured in 1911, Huie-Hodge upgraded the capacity of two of their mills by 1912.  In Hodge, it increased from 100 million board feet (“Mbf”) in 1910 to 150 Mbf in 1912. In Bienville, it increased from 40 Mbf in 1910 to 42 Mbf in 1912. Before the new construction on the N.L. and G., the Bienville mill relied solely on the Louisiana and Northwestern Railroad, and the Hodge mill relied on the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific railroad.

Early Selective Cutting at Hodge

Despite recommendations from the U.S. Forest Service to clear-cut timberland as late as 1918, Huie-Hodge practiced an early form of reforestation known as selective cutting on some of its land. Although Huie-Hodge began selective cutting during the same time period as Henry Hardtner at Urania (fifty miles southeast of Hodge), Huie-Hodge did not publicize their work.  Most likely, the idea for selective cutting at Hodge originated from J.L. Williams. In 1897, two years before coming to Macedonia with O.E. Hodge, Williams approached Arkansas lumberman P. G. Gates with a novel idea for timber management:

Gates was then president of the Eagle Mills Lumber Company near Bearden in Ouchita County. Williams asked Gates to set aside 5,000 acres of his holdings for selective cutting practices.

According to the Grant County Museum, Williams’ experiment succeeded and he gained a reputation in the region for his novel approach to timber management.  Williams joined O.E. Hodge’s Macedonia operation in 1899, but only stayed until 1901.  Nevertheless, in Williams’ short time working with O.E. Hodge, he may have lobbied again for selective cutting.

In 1909, the American Lumberman profile of Huie-Hodge confirmed their early experiments with selective cutting, or “practical forestry,” as the Lumberman called it:

[T]he officers of the Huie-Hodge Lumber Company have developed an interest in practical forestry; that is forestry of the sort that will pay the owner of cutover timber lands and the manufacturer.  Accordingly experiments have been undertaken to determine just how long it will take and what it will cost to grow shortleaf pine of commercial value.  It is too early to predict what the outcome of these tests will be, but an examination of the land cut over six or eight years ago shows that the second growth is coming up rapidly and some of it should be ready for the ax in twenty years.

If Huie-Hodge possessed cut-over land with eight years of growth in 1909, it means they started their experiments by 1901. In 1975, John H. Dennis explained that his father-in-law, Harvey F. Lewis (the woods superintendent), “would not clear cut, [but would] leave to every forty acres of land a certain number of seed trees that would make seeds and reforest naturally.”  Dennis claimed that “farther south they clear cut the land [and] they wouldn’t leave nothing” but if they cut trees for saw timber, they would “always leave seed trees.”  If Huie-Hodge began this practice from their beginning, it would have been one of the first second-growth forests in Louisiana.  In 1922, Hodge-Hunt Lumber Co.signed one of the first reforestation contract with the State of Louisiana.

In the 1900s, Henry Hardtner of the Urania Lumber Co was popularizing this technique of selective cutting, or “natural reforestation.” Rather than deliberately planting timber, Hardtner was convinced that letting the forest “naturally” re-grow would be efficient.  After meeting with Hardtner, the Great Southern Lumber Co. of Bogalusa revised his natural reforestation method to resemble “artificial reforestation,” a method that soon gained widespread acceptance across the nation.  However, the method used by Huie-Hodge more closely resembles Hardtner’s “natural reforestation,” than the “artificial” planting of Great Southern Lumber.  It is possible that Hardtner and Hodge or Hunt interacted through any of a number of local and regional institutions, such as the Southern Pine Association, Masonic Lodges, and Louisiana state government.

No concrete numbers exist for the land under reforestation, but multiple pieces of evidence point to Hodge-Hunt having an early reforestation program, which could have been as much as 20,000 acres.  This fact alone makes Hodge-Hunt Lumber a pioneer in reforestation and selective cutting.  Every history of Louisiana lumber mentions Henry Hardtner and the vast reforestation of the Great Southern Lumber Company, but Hodge-Hunt deserves equal attention.  In 1922, Hodge-Hunt participated in the first statewide reforestation program in the United States – Louisiana’s reforestation contracts – with Great Southern Lumber and Henry Hardtner.   In 1926, the Times Picayune described Hodge-Hunt as having 40,000 acres of cut-over land, which they were marketing to home seekers in a feature promoting the growth potential of Ruston.  Six months later, when Hodge-Hunt sold, they owned 60,000 acres timberland. Hodge-Hunt’s primitive reforestation readied the second-growth forests for Southern Advance by 1927.  When it became clear in the mid-1920s that pulp could be made profitably from southern pine, Hodge-Hunt (they changed their name in 1921) already possessed large swaths of second-growth timber (possibly as much as 28,000 acres). After fifteen to twenty years of growth, the second-growth timber would be suitable for pulp and paper production.

Prosperity and Investment

The Hodge-Hunt lumber firm prospered for twenty-five years under Hodge and Hunt’s leadership and the men invested their profits into other interests in North Louisiana.  In 1901, O.E. Hodge organized a branch of First National Bank in Ruston with Addison Thompson as the cashier. The bank originally capitalized at $50,000, and in 2012, it continues to operate in Ruston.[ii]  Sometimes in the 1910s and 20s, J.S. and O.E. opened up two land and realty companies – Hodge Land Company and Hodge & Hunt Realty Company.  It was commonplace for a large lumber firm like Hodge-Hunt to purchase and manage timber tracts and cut-over land sales through a subsidiary.  In 1910, J.S. Hunt served as a director of the State Bank of Winnfield, where he lived through World War I, and purchased ninety-nine shares in their stock in 1906 and 1907. Eventually, both men moved to Ruston and began investing there.

Hodge and Hunt’s business gave them substantial wealth to invest.  Occasionally, an investment failed or lost money, but most of the businesses they touched succeeded (at least during Hodge and Hunt’s lifetime).  Unlike the northern and eastern speculators decried in traditional interpretations of southern lumber development, Hodge and Hunt re-invested much of their profits locally.  Given the scope and magnitude of Hodge’s investments compared to Hunt, he likely possessed two or three times the wealth of J.S. Hunt.  Unfortunately, records about O.E. Hodge’s personal wealth are nowhere near as comprehensive those that exist for J.S. Hunt.  Alex.T., Jr. discovered a collection of his grandfather’s (J.S. Hunt) financial information during an interview with the author in the spring of 2013.  These records provided nearly comprehensive information on Hunt’s wealth, but the profile of Hodge’s wealth is based exclusively on newspaper and trade journal coverage.  As a result, the following detailed case study focuses primarily on J.S. Hunt, although he invested with O.E. Hodge on many projects.

Between 1916 and 1920, he purchased 15 shares in Jonesboro Drug Co. and another 47 in the Bank of Winnfield.  Between 1923 and his death in 1944, Hunt made a plethora of relatively small investments: Kilgore Lumber Co. of Arkansas (100  shares), Boy Scouts of America, Ouachita Valley Council (5 shares), Guaranty Bond and Finance Co. (75 shares), Bank of Winnfield (10 shares), Jackson Gin, Ice and Cold Storage (63 shares), Bird Process Gasoline Co. (five shares), North Louisiana Dairy Products (5 shares), Vicksburg Bridge and Terminal Co. of Delaware (10 shares), FADA Radio and Electric Club (100 shares), Millhaven Gas Co. (1,250 shares), Ruston Golf Club (1 share), Delta Air Corp. (840 shares), and a $45,000 war loan a few months before his death.[i]  During this time, he also invested in Citizen’s Bank and Trust Co. of Ruston (1922), Hodge & Hunt Reality, and nearly $470,000 in the West Virginia Oil and Gas Co. of Monroe (1932). West Va. Oil dealt in North Louisiana mineral rights and likely other investments not enumerated in the accessible public record.

Located within Louisiana, but outside the Ruston-Jonesboro-Winnfield corridor, two of Hunt’s largest investments, the Belle Chasse Land Co. (1921, 1924) and the Jackson-Harrison Co. (1930) illustrated his evolution as a businessman later in his career.  They represented investments in new industries and geographic locations for Hodge and Hunt: a hotel in Monroe and real estate south of New Orleans in Belle Chasse.  Hodge and Hunt owned substantial portions of both Belle Chasse Land Co. and Jackson-Harrison.