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White, John Barber, 616 E. 36th Street

Kansas City, Missouri Its History and Its People 1800-1908 by Carrie Westlake Whitney, vol. III, 1908

John B. White, with marked ability to plan and perform, stands as one of the conspicuous figures among the lumbermen of the west, being secretary and treasurer of the Missouri Land & Lumber Company and of its many allied and subsidiary organizations. Whether hereditary tendency is stronger than personal selection is a question raised by an analyzation of his life record. He devoted his early manhood to journalistic interests but there was back of him an ancestry long connected with the lumber trade and it was to this field he eventually came and within its limitations he has gained a place of distinctive precedence.

The White family of which he is a representative was founded in America by an English ancestor who settled at Salem, Massachusetts, in 1638 and in that year built the first sawmill in his section of New England. In successive generations representatives of the name have become prominent in educational, commercial and military circles. His great-great-grandfather served with the rank of colonel in the colonial wars and participated in the battle of Lake George, where fell his old-time friend and comrade in arms, Colonial Williams, who, having a presentiment that he would be killed in the engagement, made a will before the battle providing for the founding of Williams College. For a hundred years after the establishment of that institution members of the White family acted as its treasurer. Josiah White, the great-grandfather of John B. White, gained more than local distinction in connection with the law-making department of his state, being for eight or nine years a member of the general court of Massachusetts. He reached the venerable age of ninety-six years and passed away September 1, 18086, survived by fifteen children, one hundred and six grandchildren and two hundred and eleven great-grandchildren. The predilection of the family for lumbering interests had found expression in his business career, for at Leominster, Massachusetts, he had built and operated a sawmill. Although the exact date of its erection is unknown, records state that he built a house there in 1751 and that it was the birthplace of nine of his sons, eight of whom were defenders of the American cause in the Revolutionary war. A dam which Josiah White constructed at Leominster still blocks the waters of the stream and on that site is now found a gristmill and planning mill. The house which he erected is also standing and is one of the most ancient of the landmarks of that locality.

Luke White, the grandfather of John B. White, was one of the eight brothers, all in the Revolutionary war. He was reared in Massachusetts and devoted four years of his life to defending the interests of the colonists in the Revolutionary war. For a good portion of the time he occupied a position in the commissary department of the army. A rare old watch which he carried through the Revolutionary war is now an object of interest in the museum library at Kansas City. It is not know whether Luke White was ever actively connected with the lumber business, but his son, John White, who was born in 1805, followed in the business footsteps of his ancestors in that he owned a sawmill and veneer works in Chautauqua, New York, and also had a sawmill in Erie county, Pennsylvania. That he was a man of liberal education is also indicated by the fact that he was a successful school teacher for nineteen years.

It was while the family home was maintained about four miles from Jamestown in Chautauqua county, New York, that John Barber White was born December 8, 1847. His early environment was that of the farm, whereon he remained until twenty-two years of age, his time being given to the work of the fields, to the acquirement of an education and to school teaching. He supplemented his public-school course by study in the academy at Jamestown, where he spent the fall and winter months for several years. At different times he performed the work of an educator in the schoolroom and later became connected with journalistic interests, at one time being owner of the Weekly News of Tridioute, Pennsylvania. When he became half owner of that paper its financial success was anything but assuring. To its management and control, however, he brought good business ability and unabating energy and had soon placed the paper on a substantial basis. In the meantime, too, he was also actively concerned in politics and was elected on the democratic ticket in 1878 and also endorsed by the greenback party to represent his district in the state legislature. For the past twenty-five years he has been a republican in politics.

Mr. White’s earliest connection with the lumber trade also began in Pennsylvania, for as senior partner of the firm of White & Kinnear he owned a planning mill and lumberyard at East Brady, that state. The firm also had a mill which cut fifteen thousand feet of lumber per day at Tidioute and the product of the mill was floated down the Allegheny river one hundred miles and sold to the trade in the oil country through their planning mill at East Brady.

As Mr. White became an active factor in the lumber business and began studying the situation, recognizing the possibilities for development along those lines, he sought the west in 1879 that he might become the owner of some of the extensive forest tracts of this section of the country. In connection with E. B. Grandin, J. L. Grandin, John Hunter and Captain H. H. Cumings, of Tidioute, Pennsylvania, Mr. White began to purchase pine lands in southern Missouri, his first investment making him owner of fifty thousand acres in Carter county. Further purchases have brought his holdings up to two hundred and twenty-fie thousand acres. Business transactions in the west were conducted by Mr. White and his associates under the style of the Missouri Lumber & Mining Company and to further the interests promulgated by their purchases of standing lumber, they established a planning mill at Mill Spring, Missouri, in 1881. From that time forward the expansion of the business has been rapid, a mill being erected in Grandin in 1887 and constituting the nucleus of a town which now has fifteen hundred inhabitants, of whom at least eight hundred are employed in the company’s mills. At this point alone sixty million feet of lumber are annually produced, while the property interests for the furtherance of the trade include forty miles of tram road, one hundred and fifty cars and four locomotives, while the standing timber owned by the company is sufficient to supply that milling plant with all it can do for fifteen years.

Mr. White has since the beginning of the operations of the company in the west been connected with the sales department and is now secretary, treasurer and general manger of the Missouri Land & Lumber Exchange Company, controlling the sales of the output of the Grandin mills. He is likewise connected in similar official capacity with its subsidiary companies, the Ozark Land & Lumber Company, of Winona, Missouri, and the Cordz-Fisher Lumber Company, of Birch Tree, Missouri. Mr. White is president of the Reynolds Land Company, of Butler county, Missouri, which owns nine thousand acres of oak lands; general manager of the Missouri Lumber & Mining Company at Grandin, Missouri; was for twenty-one years president of the Bank of Poplar Bluff; now director in the New England national Bank of Kansas City; and secretary of the Louisiana Long Leaf Lumber Company, located at Fisher, on the Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf Railroad, in Sabine parish, Louisiana, which is a company owned by Mr. White, O. W. Fisher, general manager, of Birch Tree, Missouri; John H. Berkshire, of Winona, Missouri, and George W. Dulane, of Hannibal, Missouri. Mr. White is also president of the Forest Lumber Company, of Kansas City, Missouri, which deals in lumber and owns sixteen lumber yards in Missouri and western states.

Mr. White stands today as a prominent and honored representative of the lumber interests west of the Mississippi and as instrumental in organizing the Missouri & Arkansas Lumber Association, which was formed by lumbermen who, in response to a call from Mr. white, met for the purpose at Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and later at Little Rock, Arkansas. Of the association Mr. White was elected president. He was a moving factor in the organization of the Southwestern Association of Texarkana and for three years he has served as the president of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers’ Association. Men who are in the same line of business with which he is connected recognize his superior ability, his thorough understanding of the trade in every department and his appreciation of possibilities in organization varied and often diverse interests into a harmonious whole. But while he is a most alert and enterprising business man, he possesses also a genial nature and the term friendship is to him no idle word. He is a member of several historical and patriotic societies and is deputy governor general for the state of Missouri for the Society of Colonial Wars.

John Barber White by Janice Lee, Kansas City Public Library Local History (includes picture)