Founded as Davis-Johnson Lumber Co. in 1923 by Wirt Davis, a lawyer and noteworthy banker who would later be Chairman of the Board of Republic National Bank, and Walter B. Johnson, who was a “fixture” around Oak Cliff and in the 1940’s would become a Dallas City Councilman. Wirt’s father, George West Davis, was a prominent lawyer in East Texas who was often given land for his legal fees. With connections to Sam Houston, these holdings included timberlands and sawmills near Livingston. With his wife, Camilla Gertrude Hardin Davis (1843-1927), Davis had real estate holdings in Dallas County, in addition to their oil, gas and timber interests in East Texas. Davis-Johnson Lumber was founded on one such tract on Beckley Ave. owned by Camilla.
The original 1923 charter of Davis-Johnson Lumber Company states in Article III that “The place where the business of this corporation is to be transacted is a suburb of the City of Dallas, Dallas County, Texas, called “Trinity Heights”.” That same charter also stated that it was “to exist for a term of Fifty (50) years”, necessitating an amendment to the charter in 1973. It now reads that “The period of its duration is perpetual”.
Original capital for the company included lumber from Trinity Heights Lumber Company ($940), $25k cash, Real Estate on Beckley Ave. ($10k), a Stearns Car ($150), Iron Safe ($75) and a team of Mules ($250). At that time, lumber was selling for $35 per thousand board feet (or 19¢ for an 8 foot 2×4). 6×6 and 6×8 floor girders and 2×14 floor joists were in use. Carpenters were paid between 35¢ and 75¢ per hour, with supervisors at $1.00 per hour.
The Trinity Heights Interurban Railway line crossed Beckley Ave. directly in front of the lumberyard (whose tracks ran all the way to Waco), and a 1928 Dallas map showed Davis-Johnson on the very southern edge of the city, with open farmland beyond. Since Interstate 35 was not constructed until the 1950’s, Beckley Ave. was the major thoroughfare to Dallas from the South.
East Texas Timber. The Davis family, along with the West family, owned a couple of sawmills that milled pine and hardwood lumber. One was named South Texas Hardwood Co. in Dayton, Texas. Originally, the Dallas lumberyard sold wholesale rough lumber from those sawmills for sewer work. They also supplied dimension lumber, shiplap and decking to the developing Trinity Heights neighborhood. In Liberty County, from 1928 through the mid-1950’s, the family salvaged logs from cypress lakes and milled them into 1” and 2” air-dried boards. They would also mill 1/2” thick cypress boards for the manufacture of pirogue boats used for duck hunting in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
In the early years, lumber was delivered on wagons, drawn by horses and mules. The lumberyard required an extra wide turning area for those horse-drawn delivery wagons. By 1954, the yard was running at least four trucks: a 1950 Ford, 1950 Dodge, 1947 Studebaker, and 1952 Chevrolet. Mr. Davis recalled the Studebaker, but said it was preceded by a white truck with solid tires and a second reddish/deep orange colored Mack truck for deliveries.
One of the early projects supplied by the lumberyard was white oak used in the construction of the 20-story Republic National Bank building (built in 1926). Known as the Davis Building, 1309 Main Street is a Dallas landmark and on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Prior to becoming public in 1947, the Davis family also owned Kidd Springs Park in Oak Cliff, with its spring-fed swimming hole, amusement rides and famous dance pavilion.
War-Time. A related company on Beckley called the Houston Band Mill shipped lumber during and after World War II. It had a saw shed out back with an overhead pulley system to run the rip saws, bandsaws, a swing saw and big lathe. For a brief time, Mr. Davis also operated a millwork shop on Beckley Ave., on the rail spur just down from the lumberyard, which manufactured doors and windows out of Cypress.
During the war, the Company had sales of $39,677.29 and a net profit of $2,068.46 in 1944, and sales of $53,889.87 with a net profit of $3,989.00 in 1945. Wirt Davis died in 1945 and Wirt II received an emergency discharge in August to return from France to support his family. A pilot, he had been flying B-47’s between France and England. By 1948, the lumberyard had $161,410.54 in sales and $11,809.67 in net income, and held $28,639.15 in inventory.
Name Change to Davis-Hawn. In Athens, Texas, Hawn Lumber Company was a prominent supplier and builder of significant homes. Among six Hawn brothers, Joe Verne joined Davis-Johnson as manager and Secretary-Treasurer around 1950. Verne’s brother, Charles F. Hawn, in addition to being president of Hawn Lumber Company, was very active in state politics. He was the State Highway Commissioner for years and Highway 175 between Athens and Dallas is named in his honor.
Following W.B. Johnson’s death in 1950, Wirt Davis II bought out his widow’s interest, and in 1952 changed the company’s name to Davis-Hawn Lumber Co. Though Verne did not stay long (leaving in 1953), Wirt decided to retain the well-known name and noted at the time “believe it will help business”.
Wirt later described the lumberyard as regrettably in “bad shape” by the late 40’s and a disastrous fire destroyed the facility around 1952. Recent customers of Davis-Hawn recounted stories of watching the lumberyard up in flames from blocks away holding their grandfather’s hand. After much debate, Mr. Davis decided to rebuild rather than shut it down. The current hardware store building (though only one story at the time) and long mezzanine lumber shed along Louisiana Street were built at this time. E.S. Wheeler took over as manager of Davis-Hawn after the fire and would be in that trusted role for well over 40 years.
In the 1950’s, there were reportedly over 50 lumberyards in Dallas County. Some of the company’s competitors at the time were George Owens Lumber on Hampton, Buell Lumber (where Darian Reichert’s grandfather spent most of his career), Lyon-Gray Lumber, Cowser Lumber and Lingo Lumber (where Ben Calvary of Architectural Carpentry Materials learned the business) and Oldham Lumber.
Henry C. Beck, Jr., former CEO of HCB Construction (now known as The Beck Group), was a director of Davis-Hawn Lumber Co. for almost 50 years, from 1950-1999. He was also brother-in-law to Wirt Davis II, married to Wirt’s sister Patricia.
By 1962, Davis-Hawn had grown to $1,019,708.44 in sales (29,278.46 attributed to its “Brooklawn Home and Hardware” division), but profits only came to $5,627.65.
After leaving the corporate law practice, Dave & Darian Reichert bought Davis-Hawn in 1999. Today two of their four sons are now working at Davis-Hawn.
And the rest is history.