Wacoans of all stripes owe the Cameron family a debt of gratitude for the gift of Cameron Park. The celebration of this municipal treasure is marked today with a parade and fireworks, much as it was 100 years ago this month.
The park was dedicated May 27, 1910. It was a gift from the family of the pioneering Scottish-American businessman William Cameron for the “perpetual enjoyment of the people.”
Newspaper accounts of the era said that many businesses shut down for the occasion, and citywide celebration took place with a parade that traveled through the streets of downtown Waco to the new “people’s park” of about 125 acres. Later donations expanded the park to the 416 acres it now boasts.
Philanthropy was a hallmark of the Cameron family for many decades.
William Cameron (1834-99) was born near Perthshire, Scotland. He later founded the firm of Wm. Cameron & Company, which dominated the Waco commercial scene in the last quarter of the 19th century.
After having apprenticed for three years in a Dundee barrister’s office, Cameron abandoned his study of the law to pursue his American dream. In 1852, at age 18, he left Scotland with about $50 — about $1,250 itoday.
He landed in New York with about $450 in modern funds and left to find his fortune in the land of opportunity.
He worked his way to Illinois, where he had distant kin, and then Missouri. Although college-educated, he preferred farming and many kinds of railroad work.
When the Civil War started, he enlisted for the Union and organized a militia unit at Sedalia, Mo. He was captured at the battle of Springfield on Aug. 10, 1861, taken to St. Louis and later paroled. After his release, he supplied grain and various kinds of feed to the government.
When the hostilities ended, Cameron contracted with the M. K. & T. Railroad, also known as the Katy. He furnished ties and other construction timber for that railway as it extended its line Southwest from St. Louis, later biographers said.
Meanwhile, the naturalized American married for the first time in 1864, to Lettie Stewart of Sedalia, Mo. They had two daughters before Lettie died in 1873, when the family lived in Denison, Texas.
Cameron had established his first retail lumber yard in Missouri in 1868, and continued to add yards along the Katy line as it extended into Texas. His first Texas yard was in Denison in 1871 followed soon by yards in Sherman and Dallas.
1st trip to Waco
In 1875, Cameron visited Waco and established his first retail yard in East Waco, buying the firm of John Francis Sedwick (1841-1909). It only operated a few months when he decided to sell it back to Sedwick, a rancher. This was the same year that Cameron wed Flora Ann Berry of Little Rock, Ark. They had a son, William Waldo Cameron, and two daughters.
In the spring of 1876, the Camerons made a scouting trip for additional lumber yard locations. Upon arriving in Waco, the Scotsman decided to reopen a yard here, locating it at the corner of Fifth Street and Austin Avenue.
The next year, he repurchased the Sedwick lumber business. This included the East Waco location and a second yard located on the corner of Seventh Street and Austin Avenue.
By 1878, the Camerons made Waco their permanent home and headquarters for the firm of Wm. Cameron and Co. The two yards were consolidated at the corner of Seventh and Austin streets — the location that is today known as the Cameron Trading Company.
The firm grew and flourished through the decades, as William Cameron acquired yards and partners throughout the Lone Star State. Partners generally ran the retail yards, while Cameron himself devoted most of his attention to the saw mill and timber business.
He also oversaw grain and flour-mill operations. W.W. Cameron (1878-1939), while still in his teens, was initiated into the lumber industry at his father’s Waco General Office. He was later made a partner in the yellow pine and flour-mill interests.
William Cameron died unexpectedly Feb. 6, 1899, from a stroke as he was boarding a train at Morgan City, La. He left an estate worth $4 million — more than $100 million today — and had more than 2,500 employees.
The reorganized firm of Wm. Cameron & Co. Inc. was incorporated Oct. 10, 1900, with W.W. Cameron as president. The business then had 14 retail lumberyards, four yellow-pine mills and virgin forest, as well as bank and industrial stock.
Within five years, the company added 10 lumber yards, two new sawmills, sash and door departments; and wallpaper, paint and mantel stores.
Additional establishments were added until 1924, when the retail lumber yards totaled 71 and the corporation was worth about $89 million in modern funds. By 1939, the business included 72 yards in Texas, 11 in Oklahoma, and three in New Mexico.
W.W. also married twice — to Faith D. Baird of Buffalo, N.Y., on Jan. 9, 1901; and to Helen Miller of Waco on June 21, 1922. One daughter was born to each marriage. Cameron died in Waco on Oct. 16, 1939, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.