J. Frank Keith, Beaumont lumberman and oilman, the son of Henry Cortes Lafayette and Sarah Elizabeth (LaPorte) Keith, was born on a farm known as the Wheeler Place in Jasper County, Texas, on December 18, 1857. During the Civil War his family moved to Sabine Pass. He moved to Beaumont in his early youth and worked as a laborer and teamster for Long and Company's shingle mill. Although Keith had little formal education, he quickly advanced to management of the mill and on March 29, 1882, married his employer's daughter, Alice Carroll. Her brother, George W. Carroll, also became a prominent lumberman and Keith's sometime business partner. The newlyweds moved to Village Mills, Texas, where Keith served as superintendent of the mill owned by the Texas Tram and Lumber Company. They returned to Beaumont in 1890, when Keith accepted the position of superintendent of another sawmill belonging to the company.
During the 1890s he became a major figure in all phases of the lumber industry in Beaumont, from cutting and milling to shipping. In 1898, in partnership with Benjamin Russell Norvell, he formed the Keith Export Lumber Company. In 1899 he founded the J. F. Keith Company, later to become the Keith Lumber Company, putting up as part of his capital investment his two ships, the schooner Mary and the bark Alice. He sold that company, as well as most of his other lumber interests, to the Kirby Lumber Company in the early 1900s (see KIRBY, JOHN HENRY).
The discovery of the Spindletop oilfield in 1901 brought Keith another fortune when producing wells were brought in on his land. Thereafter, most of his interests centered on oil exploration and in organizing and directing several business firms and banks. Later he reentered the lumber business and built another sawmill at Voth. He was generous with his wealth. In 1898 he gave $3,000 to beautify the area set aside by the original proprietors of Beaumont as a courthouse square; the city then named the area Keith Park. He worked to secure a deepwater port for Beaumont and conducted successful experiments with citrus and pecan trees.
In 1902 the Keiths, who had become the parents of five children, began construction of a mansion that they named Arbol Grande, or Big Tree. Complete with an elevator, gym, and indoor swimming pool, the estate was famous as one of Beaumont's most elegant residential showplaces until it was demolished in 1949. Keith died unexpectedly in Beaumont on October 6, 1921, after an emergency appendectomy. His widow carried on her charitable works and became a well-known philanthropist who contributed generously to the YWCA, the First Baptist Church of Beaumont, and the Beaumont Children's Home.
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Ellis A. Davis and Edwin H. Grobe, comps., The New Encyclopedia of Texas (2 vols., 1925?). Judith Walker Linsley and Ellen Walker Rienstra, Beaumont: A Chronicle of Promise (Woodland Hills, California: Windsor, 1982).
Oil and Gas Industry
Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Judith Walker Linsley and Ellen Walker Rienstra,
“Keith, Jehu Frank,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 05, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
February 1, 1995