Guide to the William J.​ Starr Papers,​ 1902-​1938

Last Updated

Summary Information

Title: William J. Starr Papers

Inclusive Dates: 1902-1938

Creator: Starr, William J., 1861-1921

Call Number: Eau Claire Mss N

Quantity: 2.0 c.f. (5 archives boxes)

Repository: Housed at the Area Research Center, William D. McIntyre Library, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society, Library-Archives Division.

Archival Locations: UW-Eau Claire McIntyre Library / Eau Claire Area Research Ctr. 

Abstract: Papers of Starr, a lumberman and real estate investor, relating to the timber and land holdings of the Davis and Starr Lumber Company of Eau Claire, Wisconsin; other business investments in Wisconsin, Louisiana, and California; and the management of his estate after his death. Also present are papers of companies with which Starr was closely affiliated: the Weston Heights Stock Farm and the Weston Orchard Company, both in Dunn County, Wis., 1919-1927; the California Forest Protective Association, 1922-1926; and the Florence-Louisiana Company, 1920-1935; and documentation of other real estate holdings in Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, and elsewhere.

Correspondence, financial and legal records, minutes, and other papers are included, much of it relating to insurance and tax matters, rentals and sales, mortgages, and similar matters. Business associates included A. L. Arpin, C. T. Bundy, Burt E. DeYo, J.D.R. Steven, and staff of the Red River Lumber Company representing the California timber interests of T. B. Walker. J. B. Tasker managed the stock farm and reported regularly on cultivation and the Hereford cattle there. Paul Grant corresponded with Steven, executor of the Starr estate, on the apple orchard operations.   

Language: English


William J. Starr was born in 1861 and came to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, as a youth to reside with his guardian, Elijah Swift. He was married in 1886 and in the same year, along with George Davis, formed the Davis and Starr Lumber Company. From this beginning his business interests gradually spread out to other areas of the nation. By 1921 he was president of the Davis and Starr Lumber Company and the Wisconsin Refrigerator Company, secretary of the Eau Claire Book and Stationery Company, owner and operator of an orchard and stock farm in Wisconsin and four farms and a large country estate where the family resided near Easton, Maryland, had large interests in the Steven and Jarvis Lumber Company of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and the Florence-Louisiana Company of Vermillion Parish, Louisiana, and owned extensive timber lands in Wisconsin and California and the Parkdale Apartment Building in Chicago. He was a man of considerable standing in Eau Claire, the leading benefactor of the Christ Church there, president of the Public Library Board, and a member of numerous clubs. He also seems to have had a wide acquaintance in both the political and financial worlds of the time and was fairly intimate with leading Republican politicians.

Scope and Content Note

This collection of papers centers about the business activities of William J. Starr and the management of his estate after his death in December 1921. There are items in the collection ranging from 1902 to 1938. The bulk of the papers, however, are for the years from 1919 to 1927. The Davis and Starr Lumber Company of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is the central business organization involved, but there are also numerous records relating to Starr's personal life, mortgage and real estate interests, California timber lands, the Florence-Louisiana Company, the Weston Heights Stock Farm, and the Weston Orchard Company.

One of the more valuable items in the collection is the letterbook containing Starr's private letters and the private letters of the estate. The letterbook contains his outgoing personal correspondence from June 3, 1920, to December 9, 1921. In addition, there are personal letters written after his death by J.D.R. Steven and Burt E. DeYo running from January 5, 1922, to November 2, 1923. These items of correspondence deal with a variety of subjects such as lumbering, banking, farming, real estate transactions, mercantile business, orchards, Starr's private yacht, his sons' schooling, his daughter's wedding, politics, the diplomatic service, oil interests in Louisiana, and others. They are valuable in forcing an opinion of Starr's character, his status in the community, and his views on contemporary events. The items are arranged and numbered chronologically and indexed by recipient in the back of the volume.

There are two volumes of general letters or business correspondence. The first contains letters written by Starr from June 4, 1920, to December 12, 1921, largely in connection with the Davis and Starr Lumber Company. This organization was incorporated in 1886 by William J. Starr, George S. Davis, and Horace B. Walmsley with a capitalization of 100,000 dollars. Its central office was in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, from where Starr and Davis directed a widespread lumbering and real estate business, which was capitalized in 1916 at 250,000 dollars. This was also the central office for Starr's other operations. The company was eventually dissolved in December 1922 and its assets transferred to the Estate of William J. Starr. The second half of the volume contains correspondence relating to business affairs from December 16, 1921 to August 5, 1924. Most of it was written by Burt E. DeYo and J.D.R. Steven. The second volume continues this correspondence from August 8, 1924 to January 4, 1926, and is for the most part written by Steven. Both volumes are arranged and numbered chronologically and both contain indexes by recipient of the letters.

The loose correspondence included in the papers is broken down into five major groupings as follows: general correspondence, correspondence relating to the Western Heights Stock Farm, correspondence relating to the Western Orchard Company, correspondence relating to California timber lands, and correspondence relating to the Florence-Louisiana Company. Under general correspondence are grouped items not relating to the specific activities noted above. This file runs front July 14, 1908 to June 15, 1938. The bulk of the letters, however, are concentrated in the years from 1922 through 1927. There are a few scattered letters addressed to William J. Starr or the Davis and Starr Lumber Company running from July 4, 1908, to November 23, 1921. The remainder is correspondence of the estate carried on chiefly by J.D.R. Steven.

Steven entered the employment of the Davis and Starr Lumber Company in May 1890 as a clerk and stenographer. From 1897 to 1913 he was in charge of lumbering operations and real estate sales and from 1913 on in charge of real estate transactions. By 1921 he was also active in the Steven and Jarvis Lumber Company and the Eau Claire Book and Stationery Company, in both of which Starr had a large financial interest. After Starr's death he became the principal agent in charge of managing the estate left to Starr's widow and sick children. At this time the estate was appraised at a figure in the neighborhood of 1,200,000 dollars, of which about 700,000 dollars was in real estate scattered among various states including Wisconsin, Michigan, Louisiana, Maryland, California, and Illinois.

This correspondence runs largely to real estate transactions dealings with financial institutions, correspondence with insurance companies, and items relating to lumber interests and sale of timber lands. Starr was apparently thoroughly convinced of the value of life insurance and, left policies totaling over 300,000 dollars. Much of the material is largely routine and does not appear to be of much value except in documenting the day-by-day transactions of a fairly large real estate operator. Careful study of the collection would probably point up the procedures and problems of liquidating a large estate and might reveal the impact of economic trends in the 1920s on large real estate operations. Items are scattered after 1927 and much of the later correspondence deals with a lawsuit involving real estate in Wisconsin. It in suspected that the collection is not complete even for the years 1922 to 1927. Originally arranged by correspondent, there was a large gap between the letters C and S. Items now are arranged chronologically with carbon copies of outgoing correspondence interfiled with incoming.

The file relating to the Weston Heights Stock Farm runs from April 1919 to December 1927. This farm consisted of 960 acres in Dunn County. Four hundred acres were under cultivation and the farm was stocked with three hundred head of Hereford cattle. J. B. Tasker was manager of the farm during these years and the bulk of the correspondence is between him and J.D.R. Steven. It relates to the business aspects of farming and stock raising during the 1920s. The periodic reports of J. B. Tasker provide a well-documented account of day-by-day activities, financial conditions, and farming problems. The file would undoubtedly be very useful in documenting the impact of the much-discussed farming depression of the 1920s on a specific farm. The correspondence is arranged chronologically in two files. One contains carbon copies of the outgoing correspondence from July 14, 1919, to December 27, 1927; the other, the incoming correspondence from April 5, 1919, to December 31, 1927.

Correspondence relating to the Weston Orchard Company runs from January 1919 to December 1927. This company was incorporated in December 1909 by William J. Starr, Sever Running, and J.D.R. Steven. By 1921 it owned 160 acres in Dunn County near Menomonie, Wisconsin, one hundred acres of which had bearing apple trees. In 1925 the company was dissolved and its assets transferred to the Estate of William J. Starr. Shortly thereafter a new company was formed, Sunridge Orchards, Inc., with C. T. Bundy as president and J.D.R. Steven as secretary. This company took over the former property of the Weston Orchard Company and continued its operations. Paul Grant was in charge of the orchard throughout the 1920s, and the bulk of the correspondence in between him and J.D.R. Steven. It relates to day-to-day orchard operations, the market for apples, financial conditions, and orchard problems. Anyone interested in fruit culture during the 1920s and the impact of general economic trends on this type of business would be rewarded by an examination of the correspondence. The collection is arranged chronologically in two files. One contains carbon copies of outgoing correspondence from January 3, 1919, to December 31, 1927; the other, incoming correspondence from April 3, 1919 to December 29, 1927. Also included in the Starr Papers is the bound minute book of the Weston Orchard Company containing the articles of incorporation, minutes of stockholders' meetings, minutes of directors' meetings, the by-laws, proxies, and other pertinent material.

The file on California timberlands includes materials dating from 1902 to 1937. Again the bulk of the material is for the years 1919 to 1927, although there is considerable material for the years 1927 to 1937. This correspondence was handled chiefly by C. T. Bundy, Starr's attorney and later one of the executors of the estate, and relates to real estate transactions and prospective sales. There are a number of reports on California and other lumber companies with which business was done, a few memoranda of business meetings, correspondence with the California Forest Protective Association, discussions of railway politics and the effect of railroading moves on land values, as well as much routine correspondence concerning finances, taxes, insurance, etc. The collection, though scattered and not especially rewarding, might be of some value to those interested in California lumbering and real estate transactions. The file is arranged chronologically running from May 29, 1902, to October 18, 1937. Also included in the collection in a file of circulars and other processed material of the California Forest Protective Association arranged chronologically and a list of lands held with accompanying maps. There are also a few clippings and prospectuses relating to lumber companies operating in the area.

The file relating to the Florence-Louisiana Company runs from July 5, 1920 to December 5, 1935, and is arranged chronologically. Also included are maps and legal papers relating to Louisiana lands. The bulk of this correspondence is for the years 1927 to 1935 and relates chiefly to the winding up and settling of the complicated financial situation of the defunct company. Annual reports and tax statements are included for the later years. This land company was apparently never much of a going concern. William J. Starr lost heavily upon investments placed in the company and there were still a number of outstanding debts and notes that had to be paid from the estate when he died. Since trustees were not allowed to hold real estate under Louisiana law the land had to be divided among the heirs and this involved considerable complications. The collection is of little value unless one might be interested in the corporation laws of Louisiana and an example of the winding up of a defunct company under them.

There are also included in the Starr Lumber Company Papers two notebook volumes relating to mortgage records, a file of audit reports for the years 1926 to 1936, and a file of legal papers. The former include date sheets showing payments due for the years 1907 to 1920, an inventory of mortgages held, 1907 to 1918, record of collections, 1904 to 1931, and mortgage data sheets giving information about each mortgagee and the land mortgaged, 1907 to 1920. The first three items are arranged chronologically, the last alphabetically by mortgagee. The first volume contains records on mortgages held by William J. Starr; the second, on mortgages held by Ruth Starr Rose, William J. Starr's daughter. These are of doubtful value for historical research, but provide a record of mortgages held, payments, etc., which might be of use in studying the particular areas involved or illustrating a study of farm credit during the period.

The file of audit reports contains the executors' report for 1926, audit reports for 1931 to 1935, including four copies for 1935, and a final report covering the years 1921 to 1936. Here one can trace the financial history of the estate and note the losses sustained during the Depression. Real estate and personal property are carefully itemized showing changes in the estate's holdings from year to year. An analysis of property holdings and a brief history of each major operation of the estate is included in the 1934 report.

The file of legal papers begins with the articles of incorporation and minutes of the original stockholders' meeting of the Davis and Starr Lumber Company in 1886. Other items include farm leases, transfers of property, and numerous affidavits and summons relating to the case of Ruth Rose vs. Joseph DeFrang et al. involving foreclosure actions in 1927 and 1928.

Related Material

See also Eau Claire County Probate files 437-440, William Starr.

Administrative/Restriction Information

Acquisition Information 

Presented by David Steven, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, February 10, 1955.

Processing Information 

Processed by MEH, September 1966.

Search Terms/Subject Terms

  • Arpin, A.L.
  • Bundy, C.T.
  • DeYo, Burt E.
  • Grant, Paul
  • Steven, J.D.R.
  • Tasker, J.B.
  • Walker, T.B. (Thomas Barlow), 1840-1928
  • California Forest Protective Association
  • Davis and Starr Lumber Company (Eau Claire, Wis.) Florence-Louisiana Company
  • Red River Lumber Company
  • Weston Heights Stock Farm (Dunn County, Wis.)
  • Weston Orchard Company (Dunn County, Wis.)
  • Apples—Wisconsin
  • Beef cattle—Wisconsin
  • Businessmen—Wisconsin—Eau Claire
  • Lumber trade—California
  • Lumber trade—Wisconsin
  • Real estate investment—United States
  • Real estate investment—Wisconsin
  • Eau Claire (Wis.)--Commerce

Contents List

Box 1Correspondence of William J. Starr and his Estate, July 14, 1908 - June 15, 1938Box/Volume 4/1Private Letters of William J. Starr and his Estate, 1920- 1923 Box/Volume 4/2General Letters of William J. Starr and his Estate, 1920- 1922 Box/Volume 5/3General letters of the William J. Starr Estate, 1922-1926 
California Timber LandsBox 3Correspondence re California timber lands, 1902-1937 Box 3Papers re California Forest Protective Association, 1922- 1926Box 3List of lands held in California, with related maps 
Weston Orchard CompanyBox 2Correspondence relating to the Weston Orchard Company, 1919-1927
Minute book of the Weston Orchard Company, 1901-1925 Box/Volume 4/6Correspondence relating to the Weston Heights Stock Farm, 1919-1927 Box 2Correspondence re Florence-Louisiana Company, 1930- 1935, with legal papers and maps Box 3Legal papers of William J. Starr and his EstateBox 3Audit reports on the William J. Starr Estate, 1926-1936Box 3Records of Mortgages Box/Volume 5/4Held by William J. Starr and William J. Starr Estate, 1904- 1925 Box/Volume 5/5Held by Mrs. William Rose (Ruth Starr Rose), 1913-1931 Box/Volume 5/7Minute book of the Davis and Starr Lumber Company, 1886-1922