J. B. Watkins papers
Jabez Bunting Watkins (1845-1921), capitalist and entrepreneur in Lawrence, Kansas, built one of the largest farm mortgage businesses in the central United States during the last three decades of the 19th century. Most of these papers are business correspondence and records which chronicle the corporate life of J. B. Watkins and Company, the J. B. Watkins Land Mortgage Company, the Watkins Land Company, and various other businesses owned or controlled by J. B. Watkins. The bulk of the papers detailing J. B. Watkins' business activities date from 1882 to 1921. Records and correspondence dated from 1922 to 1946 reflect the business affairs of Elizabeth M. Watkins and the activities of Dick Williams as land manager for the Watkins' estate and the Kansas University Endowment Association.
- Majority of material found within 1864-1946, 1882-1921
- Watkins, Jabez Bunting, 1845-1921 (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Most of the materials in this collection (RH MS 1 and RH MS 1063) are stored in the KU Annex off-site storage. Researchers interested in reviewing this material must consult Spencer Research Library staff (785-864-4334, 8am-5pm Monday-Friday CST) no less than three days in advance of a planned visit. Be advised that drop-in requests for this material cannot be accommodated.
Oversize folders and microfilm (RH MS R418, RH MS S49, RH MF 112, RH MF 113, RH MF 114, RH MF 115, and RH MF 117) remain stored on-site at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.
Conditions Governing Use
Many of the letterpress volumes have been microfilmed for patron use. Researchers are required to use microfilm if it is available. Arrangements can be made to examine original materials by submitting a request to the staff, either via email@example.com or (785) 864-4334.
Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.
Biography of J. B. Watkins (1845-1921)
Jabez Bunting Watkins, capitalist and entrepreneur in Lawrence, Kansas, built one of the largest farm mortgage businesses in the central United States during the last three decades of the 19th century. The J. B. Watkins Land Mortgage Company was incorporated in 1883 and rapidly emerged at the fore-front of the western farm mortgage businesses in the plains states. During the 1870s, Watkins opened offices in New York and London in order to solicit capital through the negotiation of mortgage loan notes and the sale of debenture bonds. Built largely on personal name recognition and trust, the Watkins Company flourished through the efforts of agents employed throughout the country and at offices in Lawrence, Kansas; Greeley, Colorado; Dallas, Texas; and Lake Charles, Louisiana.
In 1883, Watkins purchased 1.5 million acres of southwest Louisiana land from the state and federal government and began to implement sweeping plans for the development of this gulf coast region. He pioneered agricultural and industrial innovations in the area and actively advertised the virtues of southwest Louisiana to potential immigrants throughout the United States and Europe. In addition, various Watkins land companies acquired title to thousands of acres in Texas, Kansas, and surrounding states. These lands formed the basis of Watkins' personal and corporate wealth, which survived the Panic of 1893, as well as the receivership and liquidation of the mortgage business in 1896.
The next decade witnessed concentrated efforts to sell land and liquidate capital-intensive holdings in order to pay off creditors represented by English and American investors. During the first decade of the 20th century, Watkins consolidated his remaining lands in Louisiana, Texas and Kansas. He continued efforts to exploit the agricultural and natural resources of southwest Louisiana while at the same time launching a new venture to develop what he believed was the vast agricultural potential of southwest Kansas. Between 1908 and 1909, he leased thousands of acres to people who would break the prairie sod and farm the land in Kansas.
J. B. Watkins died in 1921, leaving his entire estate to his wife of twelve years, Elizabeth Miller Watkins. "Lizzie" Watkins oversaw the affairs of remaining Watkins' lands and directed the continuing liquidation of the once-sprawling empire in Louisiana and Texas. Dick Williams directed the business affairs of Elizabeth Watkins and managed the Watkins' farms in southwest Kansas. Prior to her death in 1939, Elizabeth M. Watkins created a building program and series of bequests for the city of Lawrence, the University of Kansas, and the Kansas University Endowment Association.
Following is a list of Watkins controlled business interests with principal employees or officers of each concern. The list is not complete and not arranged in any particular order. It is intended to assist in clarifying names, dates and places as well as providing preliminary access to indexed letterpress books.
Researchers should note that each office is a link in J. B. Watkins' chain of businesses and consequently few employees or officers remained in a static position. Instead, many had major roles in one or two ventures, and minor roles in others. Furthermore, internal transfers of employees was common practice.
Business interests controlled by Watkins, with principal employees or officers
- J. B. Watkins & Company, Lawrence, Kansas (1873)
- J. B. Watkins, Miles J. Dart (1875-1881), and William C. White
- J. B. Watkins Land Mortgage Company (1883)
- Dallas, Texas office, Miles J. Dart, manager (1881-1895); and Lake Charles, Louisiana office
- Watkins Banking Company
- Alexander Thomson, manager-vice president (1885-?); A. C. Gordon, cashier (1885-1887); F. H. McCann, cashier (1888-1890); E. B. Miller, cashier (1891); E. B. Moses, cashier (1891-1908); James Moses, manager; James Yeager, manager (1908-?); J. S. Thompson, manager (1893-?)
- Lawrence office
- T. C. Green, bookkeeping department (1870s-1939); D. M. Sprankle, land department (1870s-1910); A. L. Stanton, land department (1880s); W. J. Patterson, law department (1880s-1895); F. H. Rudiger, secretary (1880-?); W. F. Presby, J. B. Watkins' personal secretary (1880-1904)
- London office
- H. G. Chalkley, manager (1878-1892); H. G. Chalkley, Junior, manager, English receivorship committee (1890-?); T. H. Chalkley, manager, English receivorship committee (1890-?)
- New York office
- Henry Dickinson, manager (1876-1895)
- The Kansas City, Watkins & Gulf Railway, Lake Charles, Louisiana
- J. K. Lape, superintendent (1891); F. P. Hammond, general manager (1892-1895); Thomas Saunders, general manager (1895-?); Q. H. Philbrick, chief engineer (1891-?); George A. Kelly, right-of-way agent (1891-?); E. R. Mills, auditor (1893); W. E. Lee, auditor (1893); General Taylor, general counsel, superintendent of immigration, activities & agents (1891-1895); W. J. Patterson, secretary (1891-1895); H. B. Kane, receiver (1898- ?)
- Lawrence Canning Company
- Thomas H. Smith, manager (1882-1894); Albert Herning, manager (1894-?); W. J. Patterson, secretary
- Watkins National Bank, Lawrence, Kansas
- T. C. Green, director (1888-1929); Paul R. Brooks, cashier (1888-?); C. H. Tucker, cashier (1920-?); W. E. Hazen, assistant cashier (1888-1923); D. C. Asher, assistant cashier (1920-?); Dick Williams, assistant cashier (1922-?)
- Watkins Land Company, Lawrence, Kansas (1900)
- J. B. Watkins, director; George Ashbridge, director; T. H. Chalkley, director; James Moses, director; Samuel L. Beiler, director
- The North American Land & Timber Company, Lake Charles, Louisiana
- J. B. Watkins, American manager; Alexander Thomson, superintendent, chief engineer
- Orange Land Company, Louisiana
- Henry Tatnall, manager; Ben Foster, manager (1903-1911); L. M. Higgins, manager (1911-1923); H. G. Chalkley, manager (1924-?)
- Gulf Land Company, Louisiana
- J. B. Watkins, president; Alexander Thomson, vice president
- East Lake Townsite Company, Louisiana
- J.B. Watkins, president; Alexander Thomson, vice president
- The Record Publishing Company, Louisiana
- W. F. Chalfant, editor (1889-1890); Henry M. Greene, editor (1891-1892); E. Martindale, manager (1889-?)
- The American Publishing Company, Louisiana
- W. F. MacClanahan, manager (1888-1890); Z. L. Everett, manager (1891-1893); W. H. Cline, manager (1894-?); C. W. Little, manager (1891-1894)
- The Calcasieu Sugar Company, Louisiana
- A. Seeliger, manager (1891); W. Raymond Fry, manager (1891-1893); A. L. Roberts, manager (1893-?); Lewis H. Bradford, chemist (1893)
- The Lake Charles Sugar Company, Lousiana
- [no officers listed]
627 linear foot (240 boxes + 759 volumes, 8 oversize boxes, 7 oversize folders, 182 reels of microfilm)
Scope and Contents
Several pieces in the collection date as early as 1864. The letterpress correspondence series begins in 1871. However, the bulk of the papers detailing J. B. Watkins' business activities date from 1882 to 1921. Records and correspondence dated from 1922 to 1946 reflect the business affairs of Elizabeth M. Watkins and the activities of Dick Williams as land manager for the Watkins' estate and the Kansas University Endowment Association.
Most of these papers are business correspondence and records which chronicle the corporate life of J. B. Watkins and Company, the J. B. Watkins Land Mortgage Company, the Watkins Land Company, and various other businesses owned or controlled by J. B. Watkins. Correspondence details business conducted through the Lawrence, Kansas office (1873-1939), the New York office (1876-1894), the London office (1878-1921), the Dallas office (1881-1895), and the Lake Charles, Louisiana office (1883-1929). Correspondence, reports and financial statements from company managers, employees, agents, real estate brokers, lawyers and patrons of the land mortgage company comprise much of the "incoming" correspondence series. J. B. Watkins' personal correspondence is an integral component of the collection.
Prominent features of the collection include papers and correspondence from the Lawrence Canning Company; the Kansas City, Watkins & Gulf Railway Company; the Watkins National Bank; the Calcasieu Sugar Company; and The Record and The American publishing companies. The papers and correspondence of Dick Williams and Elizabeth M. Watkins comprise the bulk of the collection dated after the death of J. B. Watkins in 1921.
The unbound correspondence and papers of the J. B. Watkins Collection have been arranged in chronological order and placed in series by company office, business or type (for example, bank statements). In an attempt to lessen the confusion caused by the interrelationship of J. B. Watkins with his many business interests, the collection was arranged along the following guidelines:
The materials pertaining to the general business activities of the J. B. Watkins Land Mortgage Company comprise the main business correspondence series. The correspondence flow of the London, New York, Dallas, Lake Charles, and Lawrence offices have been, for the most part, reconstructed as it originally occurred. Business letters were placed in series on the basis of where or to whom they were sent, thereby creating an "incoming" correspondence series for each of the company offices. In the cases of the New York, Dallas, and Lawrence offices, letterpress volumes comprise a companion series of "outgoing" correspondence.
Personal letters addressed to J. B. Watkins can also be found in the appropriate office series where they were sent. However, correspondence addressed to Watkins when he was not in one of the offices has been placed in the office series where it originated. No attempt was made to maintain the "incoming" correspondence order by following Watkins in his frequent travels. This distinction also applies to the Elizabeth M. Watkins correspondence series.
In an effort to clarify the distinction between the man and his business, a J. B. Watkins correspondence series was created. All letters and papers that could be identified as being written (or dictated) by J. B. Watkins were placed in this series. This created a series of Watkins' personal letters, most of which were addressed to the Lawrence office during periods of his extended absence. The J. B. Watkins Personal Letterpress volumes complement this series.
Several subject-based series were developed in an attempt to highlight both the diversity and autonomy of J. B. Watkins' various business interests. Correspondence and papers, both "incoming" and "outgoing," relating to such concerns as Kansas City, Watkins & Gulf Railway Company; the Lawrence Canning Company; and the Watkins National Bank have been placed in series separate from the general office correspondence.
The bound volumes in the collection are arranged as a separate group of materials and include company financial records, legal records, and letterpress volumes containing the outgoing correspondence of the Lawrence, New York, Dallas, and Colorado offices of the J. B. Watkins Land Mortgage Company; Lawrence Canning Company; and personal outgoing correspondence of J. B. Watkins. Numbering in the hundreds, these bound volumes form the heart of the collection. They constitute a precise financial record as well as offer a companion and cross reference research ability with the materials and correspondence of the other series in the collection.
While the J. B. Watkins Collection is comprised of numerous business correspondence and subject series, materials that have been separated into series do not adequately reflect the complex and interrelated nature of these businesses. Researchers interested in a particular subject may well find it necessary to thoroughly examine a number of letterpress volumes, and several correspondence series in order to ascertain the full range of materials available within the entire Watkins' Collection.
RH MS 1
RH MS 1063
RH MS R418
RH MS S49
RH MF 112-115, 117
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Jabez Bunting Watkins Collection was salvaged from a scrap paper drive in 1942 by University of Kansas professor of history, James C. Malin. As the result of an agreement by Chancellor Deane W. Malott and Dick Williams, administrator of the Watkins' estate, these 2.5 tons of materials were transferred to the University of Kansas on condition that waste paper from the University be substituted, pound for pound, for all Watkins' papers removed from the city dump.
Dick Williams deposited additional Watkins-related records with the Kansas Collection at the Spencer Research Library in 1961. These materials, coupled with donations of the Kansas State Historical Society and the Elizabeth M. Watkins Community Museum in 1983, comprise the correspondence, papers, record volumes, letter-press books, and related materials of the J. B. Watkins Collection.
Dick Williams collection, RH MS 6, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.
Van Wyck-Brodhead papers, RH MS 98, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.
Fair Mill and Elevator Company records, RH MS 377, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.
- Guide to the J. B. Watkins Collection
- J. B. Watkins papers
- Finding aid prepared by J. Thomas Brown, Project Archivist James O'Barr, Research Assistant Sara Kennedy, 1984. Finding aid encoded by amc, 2005. Finding aid revised by tmw, 2017; revised by lmw, 2020.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Finding aid written in English.
- Funding for the creation of the original finding aid was made available by grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the University of Kansas Endowment Association, and the Raymond Rice Foundation
- Finding aid permalink
- Preferred citation
J.B. Watkins papers, RH MS 1, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas