sawmill

Lula Simms Deans’ well-known twins.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 September 1946.

“… the well-known twin-brother’s Doan and Dock Sims; saw-mill owners and lumber dealers here”?

Given the prominence of business owners among Wilson’s early 20th-century African-American community, I was surprised never to have heard of the Simms brothers or even any Black-owned sawmills in Wilson. What I can readily find in digital records does not shed much light on the brothers’ business operations, but does provide some details of their lives.

Lula Simms Deans was born in Nash County in 1871, most likely in Jackson township, which borders Wilson County west of Elm City. Her parents, Wiley and Rachel Simms, had been enslaved in Wilson County and registered their two-year cohabitation there in 1866. Lula was about 23 years old when she gave birth to Doan E. and Dolphus F. Simms in either Wilson or Nash County. She was not married, but one source lists their father as John Taylor. When the twins were about 14 years old, Lula Simms married Wiley Deans of Wilson County.

Doan and Dolphus, known as Dock, were earning their own money as early as 1910, and soon after set out on the separate paths that would eventually lead to their lumber business.

Doan Simms was in Franklin County, North Carolina, by 1912. He fathered a son that year, whom he named after his twin brother, and married the boy’s mother in 1917, the year little Dolphus died. The same year, when he registered for the World War II draft, he described his job as a millhand for John K. Barrow, a sawmill and lumber manufacturer near Zebulon in southeast Wake County. By 1930, Doan and his family were living near Whitakers in extreme northern Nash County, and Doan was described in the census as a sawmill foreman. Ten years later, he and his family were living just over the Wilson County line in Wayne County.

Dock Simms remained in Jackson township (or nearby Zebulon) for decades before relocating to the Edgecombe County side of the Whitakers area during the Depression. In 1930, the census described his occupation as lumber mill manager and in 1940, a sawmill logger.

By 1940 (and perhaps ten years earlier), the Simms brothers had established their lumber business(es), but I have not been able to determine where it was located and even what it was called. I’ll continue to search, and any clues are appreciated.

  • Lula Deans

In the 1870 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farm laborer Willie Simms, 32; wife Racheal, 23; and daughters Mahala, 1, and Anna, 7.

In the 1900 census of Jackson township, Nash County, N.C.: farmer Rachael Simms, 52, widow; daughter Lula, 27, farm laborer; and grandchildren Loyd, 7, Doan and Dolphus, 6, and Maud, 2 months.

On 13 April 1908, Wiley Deans, 22, of Nash County, son of Pete and Catsey Ann Deans, married Lula Simms, 34, of Nash County, daughter of Wiley and Rachel Simms, both deceased. Free Will Baptist minister C[rockett] Best performed the ceremony at his residence in Wilson.

In the 1910 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Wiley Deans, 27; wife Lula, 36; stepsons Loyd, 18, Doane and Dolphus, 16, and Theodore R., 5; brother-in-law Hubbert Simms, 19; and niece Mary Simms, 12.

In the 1920 census of Jackson township, Nash County: on Wilson and Stanhope Road, farmer Wiley Deans, 36; wife Lula, 45; children Thedo, 15, and Van, 9; and brother-in-law James Sims, 43.

Lula Deans died 18 September 1946 near Whitakers, Edgecombe County, N.C. Per her death certificate, she was born 7 November 1871 in Nash County to Wiley Simms and Rachel Simms, both of Wilson County; was a widow; and was buried in Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson. D.F. Simms, Whitakers, was informant.

  • Doan E. Simms

Also in the 1910 census of Jackson township, Nash County: Doc and Doanie Simms, 17, odd jobs laborers in the household of N. Harriss Perry, a white 35 year-old farmer.

Dolphus Simms died 21 June 1917 in Harris township, Franklin County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born 2 June 1912 in Franklin County to Don Simms of Mecklenburg County, Virginia, and Roxana Davis of Dinwiddie County, Virginia.

In 1917, Doan Sims registered for the World War I draft in Franklin County, N.C. Per his registration card, he was born 6 March 1896 in Wilson County; lived in Louisburg, N.C.; and worked as a millhand for J.K. Barrow.

On 9 September 1917, Doane Sims, 28, of Louisburg, Franklin County, married Anna Morgan, 26, of Louisburg, daughter of Wyatt Morgan and Rebecca Morgan, in Zebulon, Wake County. [Presumably, “Anna” was Roxanna.]

On 31 July 1918, Doan Simms, sawyer, was sent to Camp Greene, Charlotte, N.C., for basic training.

U.S. Lists of Men Ordered to Report to Local Board for Military Duty, 1917-18, www.ancestry.com.

In the 1920 census of Little River township, Wake County, N.C.: Doan Sims, 26, sawmill sawer; wife Roxanna, 27, born in Virginia; daughter Mary, 9, born in Virginia; and boarder Nelson York, 27, sawmill cutter, born in South Carolina. [Mary Beatrice Simms was born 3 September 1910 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. She died 16 September 2003 and is buried in Rest Haven Cemetery, Wilson.]

On 5 May 1927, Mary B. Simms, 18, of Zebulon, daughter of Doan and Annie Simms, married Rubert Weaver, 22, of Zebulon, son of Gus and Ida Weaver, in Raleigh, N.C.

In the 1930 census of North Whitakers township, Nash County, N.C.: sawmill foreman Doan Sims, 36, and wife Roxanna, 31. Sharing their household: Rubert Weaver, 25; wife Mary B., 19; and their daughters Doris, 2, and Ruby V., 11 months. [A number of saw mill laborers were listed in the vicinity, including Nelson York, the Simms’ Wake County boarder.]

In the 1940 census of Great Swamp township, Wayne County, N.C.: farm manager Don Simms, 46; wife Roxanna, 48; grandchildren Doris, 12, Ruby, 10, Anna, 9, and Myrtle, 4; and Jimmie Joyner, 25, laborer.

In 1940, Jefferson Albert Howard registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 7 June 1918 in Wilson County; lived at New Grabneck (Gen Del), Wilson; his contact was Doane E. Simms, R.F.D. Lucama, who was his employer and landlord. The card noted that Howard had a “severe burn scar on left arm & foot.”

In 1940, Jimmy Joyner registered for the World War II draft in Wayne County. Per his registration card, he was born 20 September 1912 in Bailey, Nash County; lived at R.F.D. 1, Lucama, Wayne County (updated: 53 K Street N.E., Washington, D.C.); and his contact was friend Don Simms.

Doan E. Simms died 22 December 1962 at Carolina General Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 6 March 1896 in Nash County to Lula Deans; was married to Roxanna Simms; lived at 200 Pender Street, Wilson; was a World War I veteran; and was a retired businessman.

Simms was buried in Rest Haven Cemetery under a large headstone engraved D.E. and D.F. Simms Family.

  • Dolphus F. “Dock” Simms

On 30 August 1919, Adolphus Simms, 35, of Nash County married Bessie Lucas, 18, of Nash County at the Wilson County Courthouse.

In the 1920 census of Jackson township, Nash County: farmer Dolphus Simms, 25, and wife Bessie L., 17.

On 1 October 1923, Dock Simms, 28, of Zebulon, N.C., married Mary Lou Fennell, 22, of Wallace, N.C., in Burgaw, Pender County, N.C.

In the 1930 census of Jackson township, Nash County: lumber mill manager F. Dock Simms, 36; wife L. Mary, 39; and lodgers, D. John Fennell, 25, lumber mill laborer, and wife Mary, 25.

In the 1940 census of Upper Fishing Creek township, Edgecombe County, N.C.: sawmill logger Dock Simms, 46; wife Mary L., 39; and daughter Evelyn, 4. Per the census, the family lived in Wilson County in 1935.

Dock F. Simms died 30 March 1953 in Whitakers, Edgecombe County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born 6 March 1894 in Wilson County to John Taylor and Lula Simms; was a sawmill operator; and was married to Mary Lou Simms.

Simms was buried in Rest Haven Cemetery under a large headstone engraved D.E. and D.F. Simms Family. His widow, Mary Lou F. Simms of Whitakers applied for a military headstone, which was to be shipped to D.E. Simms, 200 Pender Street, Wilson.

Anatomy of a photograph: Williams Lumber Company.

Founded in 1912 in Elm City, Williams Lumber Company‘s Wilson sawmill was sandwiched between Banks Street and Hominy Swamp Canal to the north and south, and Douglas (formerly Spring) and South Lodge Streets to the west and east. (There is still a lumber company at that location, but it’s not Williams Lumber.)

In the mid-1940s, Charles Raines and Guy Cox photographed Williams’ workers posing with equipment in the lumber yard.

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A tractor driver.

A forklift driver sits atop a load.

Seven drivers lounge against their trucks.

If you recognize any of these men, please let me know.

This top image is found among the Raines & Cox collection of photographs at the North Carolina State Archives. It is catalogued as PhC_196_CW_299H_WilliamsLumber3. Many thanks to John Teel for sharing. 

Killed in sawmill.

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Fayetteville Observer, 26 October 1921.

Bob Speight was also known as Bob Hill. A Greene County native, he was 17 years old at his death.

Perhaps due to confusion created by his use of alternate surnames, Robert Hill, alias Speight, has two death certificates. Bob Hill’s document notes that an epileptic seizure contributed to the saw mill accident that killed him. Odie Speight acted as informant and undertaker, and W.B. Wooten signed the certificate at filing.

Robert Speight’s certificate does not mention an underlying medical event. Jessie Speight was informant, and, curiously, C.H. Darden & Son signed as undertaker. There is no registrar’s signature.

Killed in sawmill.

Fayville Obs 10 26 1921

Fayetteville Observer, 26 October 1921.

Probably, in the 1920 census of Stantonsburg, Wilson County: on Moyetown Road, tenant farmer Elijah Ward, 34; his sister Florance, 26; farm laborer Hillery Wootten, 26, servant; farm laborer Robert Speight, 35, servant; his brother James Ward, 19, and sister Sarah Ward, 16.