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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History

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Horatio Nelson Smith

Source: "Portrait and Biographical Record - Published 1894 by Excelsior Publishing Co., Chicago" Pages 603 - 605

It is difficult for the men of to-day to form a just estimate of the men who made this country what it is. Fifty years ago (even less than that), this spot where I am now writing was but a jungle of trees. North, south, east and west, stretched a vast and trackless forest, tenanted only by wandering tribes of Indians and wild beasts of the woods.

A thoughtful spirit should perceive something of what is due to those brave souls who left such a heritage to the present generation. These men coming from an older country have borne "the burden and heat of the day." They have felled the trees, cleared the land, cultivated the virgin soil, made the first homes since the world began, built the churches and schools, made the roads, formed the first societies, civil and social laws, and, in short, brought civilization with all its blessings to you and your children. These men and women are almost gone, but a few gray heads are yet here.

Horatio Nelson Smith was born in Royalton, Vt., March 20, 1820. His grandfathers were, on both sides, soldiers of the Revolution, and both suffered almost unto death in the prison ship in New York Harbor. Col. Stafford Smith, his father, was also an officer in the War of 1812, and was a descendant of the Staffords in England, a family famous in history.

At the age of twenty-four, Mr. Smith was married to Miss Laura A. Chase, aged seventeen. She was a daughter of George Chase and Eliza grover, of Bethel, Vt. George Chase was the eldest son of Philander Chase, the first Episcopal Bishop of Ohio, and afterward of Illinois. Eliza Grover was the daughter of Luther Grover, of Bethel, Vt., who, with his father, was a soldier of the Revolution, and both were pensioned by the Government.

The children of H. N. Smith and his wife Laura were six in number, namely: Anna Ingraham, born in Bethel, Vt.; Stafford, in Sheboygan, Wis.; Mary Chase, Martha Nelson, Laura Grover and Frances Margaret, in Plymouth, Wis. Of these, Anna Ingraham became the wife of Dr. John Newton O'Brien. She died March 8, 1888, leaving three children: Daisy, Sara Stafford and Harold Nelson. She was a person of fine literary taste, and of a character so noble and refined as to command the love and respect of all who knew her. She had published a series of charming sketches of American authors, and many articles of great interest and value. Her last work was a delightful paper upon Mt. Vernon and its environs. Stafford met his early death at Sheboygan Falls, April 2, 1864. He was running to meet an incoming train, when his foot slipped and he fell under the wheels. This event nearly destroyed the life of his sister Anna, who witnessed the scene. Mary Chase became the wife of Rev. William Gardam, an English clergyman. He is now Dean of the cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, at Faribault, Minn. Mrs. Gardam is a most efficient helpmate in her husband's parish work, besides being an artist of merit and a careful student. Martha Nelson is the wife of George H. Yenowine, of Milwaukee, editor and publisher of Yenowine's News. She is a favorite in society, as well as with many friends. Laura Grover has been associated with Mr. Yenowine in literary work, besides writing many interesting papers for various periodicals. Frances Margaret is the wife of James Franklin Trottman, a young lawyer residing in Milwaukee.

In 1847 Mr. Smith came to Sheboygan. It was then hoped, as foreign emigration was pouring into northern Wisconsin by way of the Great Lakes, that Sheboygan would soon rival Milwaukee in population; but this hope was soon blasted. Mr. Smith began business by selling goods in Sheboygan. Finding that the little settlement was not likely to advance until the country back of it became capable of paying tribute to the town, he opened a small store in Plymouth, and after a time sent his young brother, Patrick Henry, a boy of nineteen, to take charge of it. This was the nucleus of one of the most prosperous, and probably the oldest, business houses in this county, and is now, as it always has been, conducted upon those principles of honesty and fair dealing which were strictly followed by its founders, the firm of Huson & Zerler.

Mr. Smith was elected to the Assembly from Sheboygan in the fall of 1848, the same year of the admission of Wisconsin into the Union. In the fall of 1850, Mr. Smith removed his entire business to Plymouth, and from that time forward, in company with his brother, conducted it without a change. In 1852 he was elected State Senator from the First Senatorial District. It may be here stated that Mr. Smith was a life-long Democrat. It was a part of his character to remain true to his convictions, even when a change might benefit him in the eyes of his friends.

During these years Mr. Smith had always much to do with public improvements. There were struggles about schoolhouses, and the Plank Road was a public need, people being tired of dragging their wheat and com through mud and over corduroy to Sheboygan for shipment. As a matter of course there was more or less opposition. Years passed, and there was talk about a railroad from Sheboygan west. It was projected and partially carried out, but for years met with no genuine success.

Then came the great struggle for the Milwaukee & Northern Railroad, which in time brought about a great change in this county. With this enterprise Mr. Smith was for some years closely identified; in fact, his connection with its management ceased only when the road was leased to the Wisconsin Central.

A few years previous came the war, with all its painful and wretched trials, robbing the community of its sons and breaking the hearts of so many fathers and mothers, taking from most of us all the earnings of years of toil and privation.

In 1874 Mr. Smith was appointed Warden of Wisconsin State Prison, where he remained through three terms or six years. He was first appointed by Gov. Taylor; next by Gov. Ludington, and the third time by Gov. Smith. The work he accomplished at the prison has been, approved by candid men of both parties.

The change in the business of the prison from chair-making by the State, to the manufacture of shoes, the labor being leased to M. D. Wells & Co., of Chicago, proved of great financial benefit, without being in the least deleterious to the men or to the community, in spite of theorists and of those unacquainted with the facts in the case. The discipline of the prison was carefully revised and improved, and the whole morale of the dreary place made brighter and more encouraging to the victims of their sins and lawlessness, and, one may say, of the sins of society, in many cases.

When Mr. Smith took leave of the men, in an address which is a model in its own way, they were deeply moved, and showed their regard for him by many most affecting tokens. Mr. Smith removed to Milwaukee in 1880. Soon after, the Milwaukee & Northern Railroad was severed from its business relations with the Wisconsin Central. Mr. Smith then took charge of the northern extension of the road, from Ontonagon south. He remained in charge of this business until 1885. An accident here caused the failure of his health. He never recovered from the shock, and that fall went to California with his family.

On his way home he suffered a severe hemorrhage of the lungs, at Albuquerque, N. M. From this he finally rallied, and after reaching home seemed somewhat better, so that he made several short trips for the company. Upon one of these the message came suddenly a few minutes of difficult breathing, and the gentle, kindly, loving heart ceased to beat.

He was taken to Milwaukee that night. It is not for us to speak of what he was to his wife and children. It is enough to say, as was said at the time, that "never was man more beloved by his friends in his life, or more mourned in his death." There was no public demonstration made at the funeral, which occurred August 6, 1886, at St. Paul's Church, Plymouth, where he had long been a communicant, and where he had served for years as a Vestryman. His old friends and neighbors gathered to show their love and respect for one they had known so long, with other kind friends from Milwaukee, among them many honored names. He was buried on a sunny August morning by the side of the son so long ago gone away, "in the sure and certain hope of a joyful resurrection."

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