The History of W.T Harvey Lumber Company
This history spotlight was taken from the following sources: City of Progress by Margaret Laney Whitehead and Barbara Bogart, Columbus on the Chattahoochee by Etta Blanchard Worsley, A History of Columbus 1828 - 1928 by Nancy Telfair, and Columbus: Georgia's Fall Line "Trading Town" by Dr. Joseph B. Mahan.
The W.T. Harvey Lumber Company traces its history back to the middle of the Civil War and the year 1863, when William Thomas Harvey came home from active duty in the Confederate Army. He began sawing lumber for railroad construction and repairs, which led him to make the lumber business his life’s career. After the war, he began building up a business in Muscogee and Marion counties, owning and operating sawmills, then establishing a sash, door, and blind factory, and a general wholesale and retail lumber operation in Columbus on the northeast corner of First Avenue and 12th Street.
(*Executive Director’s note: I have found two different founding dates for the business and three different early partners for Mr. Harvey. However, all four books I have used agree on the first location of First Avenue and Twelfth Street. The business also appears in the 1889 Sanborn Map and is listed as W.T. Harvey & Co. Planing Mill. Below are what each source states.)
Columbus on the Chattahoochee by Etta Blanchard Worsley. “The W. T. Harvey Lumber Company, organized in 1887, was first under the name of Harvey and Samples, with W.T. Harvey and J.B. Samples as partners.
City of Progress by Whitehead and Bogart. “The W.T. Harvey Company was founded in 1889 by Mr. W.T. Harvey and Mr. Tom Tilly Martin.
Columbus: Georgia’s Fall Line Trading Town by Dr. Joseph Mahan doesn’t address any early partner.
A History of Columbus - 1828 - 1928 by Nancy Telfair. "John C. Martin came to Columbus in 1891 and associated himself with Mr. Harvey in the Sash, Door, and Blind business for a number of years, under the name Harvey and Martin Lumber Company, until it burned. He then entered the furniture business and established the Martin Furniture Company..."
A devastating fire, originating from shavings that provided heat for the plant’s boilers, burned Harvey’s buildings to the ground on July 4, 1891. The business was reorganized as the W.T. Harvey & Company in 1892 with a new building constructed at Sixth Avenue and 12th Street, across from the Railroad Station. The company moved in 1894 to Sixth Avenue and 15th Street. After another fire destroyed this facility in 1896, Harvey rebuilt at its present site at 800 15th Street through a purchase of two blocks from the Commons Commission.
William Henry Harvey was born in Howard, Georgia in 1867. He moved to Columbus in his teens with his parents to engage in the lumber business. W.T. Harvey died in 1918 and his son, W.H. Harvey, served as president until his death in 1922. W.H. Harvey was described as a man of unerring judgement and took an unflagging interest in his work, being one of the master builders of the modern Columbus. The corporation which he operated, and practically owned, furnished materials or erected houses which made this fast-growing city double both in size and in importance. From the time his corporation was established to the time of his death, he did a most successful and profitable business.
W.H. Harvey’s sister Stella H. Slaughter was made president following her brother’s death and her husband, John L. Slaughter became general manager. Etta Blanchard Worsley states, “It was a remarkable fact that in 1939 and later, all the officers of this lumber company were women, descendants of W.T. Harvey.” John Slaughter had worked with the company as assistant manager since 1893. Nancy Telfair notes he was "frugal but not to parsimony or avarice; nay he was generous both of his time and of his substance wherever necessity or duty called." Mr. Slaughter (pictured to the left) died in 1928.
Following the death of John Slaughter, Wilfred E. Gross, W.H. Harvey’s son-in-law, was named general manager. Mr. Gross added his outstanding abilities to Harvey Lumber’s business management, improving its organization and achieving a high level of success. In the early 1930s, Gross was joined by W.J. Campbell as superintendent, strengthening the management team. Under Gross and Campbell, the firm expanded its millwork shop into one of the largest in Georgia.
Neatly painted company trucks, fast deliveries, modern and complete displays of merchandise, and keeping a full stock of materials were some of the main factors responsible for success under the leadership of Gross and Campbell. One of Gross’ innovative ideas in the 1930s was publicizing the firm by building 300 wooden benches, painting them, identifying them with the Harvey Lumber name, and placing them in city parks and public areas and lending them out on request. Harvey Lumber brightened benches with fresh paint every year. Another of Gross’ innovations was described in a feature story about the company, published in the August 26, 1939 issue of the American Lumberman magazine: “Just behind the office is the most compact display room the writer has ever seen in a lumberyard. The room is eleven feet long and twelve feet wide. In it are displayed several kinds of flooring, a number of wall and ceiling treatments, two types of windows, roofing, brick, hardware, a fireplace, and panel and screen doors on a specialty-built rack. Everything except the roofing, brick, and doors are applied as they would be in a home.”
Gross led the company in maintaining its position as of the Columbus area’s leading lumber and building material firms until his death in 1963. At that time, his son, Wilfred E. “Bubber” Gross, Jr. (pictured to the right) became general manager. A graduate of Georgia Tech, he joined Harvey Lumber in 1949, contributing leadership to community and church activities, as serving as president of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce in 1976.
Harvey Lumber continued to achieve growth through innovative business practices. A Harvey “Lumber One” branch opened on Gentian Boulevard in 1978 and another branch in Phenix City in 1981. In May 1984, Harvey Lumber secured an Industrial Revenue Bond and purchased 3.5 acres of land on the west side of its main plant property. This included a warehouse of some 16,000 square feet, enabling the firm to move ahead with plans for a 7,500 square foot addition to its offices.
Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the company maintained solid footing financially and continued its leadership within the community. Unfortunately, competitors were growing in number and the economy and the housing market saw one of its most devastating plunges in 2008. These two factors put Harvey Lumber in a very difficult position that none of us would want for our family business. The difficult decision to file for Chapter 11 was made and in 2011 W.T. Harvey Lumber was purchased by Natchez, Miss-based Central Network Retail Group (CNRG). Fortunately, the Gross family and the long-time Harvey employees, who have spent years building customer relationships and community connections, are still the local face of this legacy business.
For over 150 years, Harvey has grown and evolved in many ways. Through it all, they have been regarded as one of the leading lumber and building supply companies in the Chattahoochee Valley area. In May, we will celebrate Historic Columbus' 55th Anniversary and Preservation Month. Get ready for great preservation projects - past and present - mixed with the incredible history of our community. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram to see our daily posts in addition to these Thursday Spotlights! Thank you all for your continued support of Historic Columbus! Elizabeth B. Walden Executive Director