Sunday, June 18, 2017

My centenarian great-grandfather—Sidney Brown Smith (1861–1962)

In honor of Father's Day, here's a post about one of my paternal ancestors. Sidney Brown Smith was my great-grandfather, my father's father's father.  He was born and lived most of his life in the village of Hanover Center in New York. That's in Chautauqua County, the westernmost part of New York, farther west than Buffalo.

Sidney Brown Smith was born on February 22, 1861, in Hanover Center. He was the sixth of seven children born to Daniel and Cordelia Cushman Smith. He attended the local schools until at least 1883, when a local newspaper records him passing the Regents Exams. These were end-of-course exams given to assess mastery of the high school curriculum. New York State still administers the Regents, but I assume they have changed a bit since Sydney took them.

As a young man, Sidney Smith worked as a teacher in several nearby villages including Brant, Smith's Mill, Log Village, and Balltown.

On September 1, 1887,  at the age of 26, Sidney Smith married Elizabeth ("Lizzie") Curran, the daughter of Daniel and Catherine Curran. The Currans lived about a half mile down the road from the Smith family's farm. A newspaper account of the wedding reports that, "After the wedding the happy couple started on their wedding trip amid a shower of old shoes." Apparently throwing shoes at the departing newlyweds is an old tradition. This seems especially appropriate since Lizzie's father was a shoemaker.

Sidney Smith, Lizzie Smith, Hazel Smith and Harry Smith
Sidney and Lizzie's first child, my grandfather, Harry Lee Smith, was born on March 31, 1890. Perhaps parenthood prompted Sidney to turn from teaching to a livelihood that would better support his new family. On April 4, 1891, when Harry was a year old, Sidney Smith purchased a 78 acre farm outside the nearby village of Smith's Mill.  Soon after, Sidney's family grew again with the birth of his daughter, Hazel Roena Smith, born September 28, 1892.

In 1903, Sidney bought a new property adjacent to the farm where he had grown up. Sidney farmed this land, sometimes known as Greenridge Farm, for many years. He and Lizzie were active members of the Hanover Center community, participating in the local Farmers' Club, the Hanover Grange, the Hanover Literary Club, and other organizations.

Sidney's son, Harry, grew up and helped to run the farm. Harry married late, in 1927 at age 37. At this point, Sidney was 66 years old, and ready to retire from actively running the farm. So he and Lizzie rented a home in the nearby town of Silver Creek, leaving Harry to run the farm and raise his family there. In 1930 or 1931, the Smiths had bought a new home in Silver Creek, at 9 Jackson Street. This is where one of my favorite family portraits was taken during the summer of 1931.

Through his 70s, Sidney continued to help out at the farm. He would walk roughly four miles round-trip to get there, cutting across fields to take a direct route.

Harry Smith died in February of 1941. The family sold Greenridge Farm, and at age 80, Sidney finally retired from farming.  A few years later, in 1945, Lizzie also passed away (at age 84). Sidney continued living in Silver Creek until the mid-1950s, when he moved to Buffalo for a year or two, likely to be near his daughter, Hazel, who was a teacher in the public schools there. In 1958, at age 97, Sidney returned to Silver Creek and moved into the Silver Creek Nursing Home.

On February 22, 1961, Sidney celebrated his 100th birthday. Still sharp-minded, Sidney entertained his many visitors that day with stories from his long life in and around Silver Creek.

Sidney died on November 4, 1962, a few months shy of his 102nd birthday.

With long-lived relatives, like Sidney Smith, I always find it amazing to consider the changes and events that happened during his life.  Sidney was born during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln and died during Kennedy's presidency. During those years the United States grew from 34 to 50 states. Sidney Smith was born during the Civil War and when he died the US was starting to send troops to Vietnam, He lived through the Spanish-American War, both World Wars, and the Korean conflict. His life saw the invention of antibiotics, cars, airplanes, radio, and television, as well as the electrification of America.

Sadly, I never met Sidney. I have many friends who knew their great-grandparents. But the ancestors on my Smith line had children late in life. Despite living 101 years, Sidney died several years before I was born.

Notes and Sources

Many of the details here are drawn from my father's memories and from a long article from the Lake Shore News and Times on the occasion of Sidney's 100th birthday, and a similar article written for his death.
 "Village's Eldest Resident Observes 100th Birthday," Lake Shore News, Vol. 55, No. 8 (Silver Creek, N. Y., February 23, 1961), p. 1.
"Village's Oldest Resident Dies at Age of 101," Lake Shore News, Vol. 56, No. 45 (Silver Creek, N. Y., November 8, 1962), p. 1. 
The wedding of Sidney Smith and Lizzie Curran including the "shower of old shoes" is also described in a local newspaper article.
"Log City," Silver Creek Local (Silver Creek, N. Y.), October 10, 1887.  
The name of the Sidney Smith farm, Greenridge Farm, is a convenient moniker. But it is not clear how much it was used. My father, who lived on that property for the first ten years of his life, has no recollection of it, and I have only seen it mentioned in one newspaper article. That article describes the golden wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Harvey J. Gidley and lists among the attendees, "Mr. and Mrs. Sidney B. Smith of Greenridge Farm, Hanover Center."
"Golden Wedding Pleasant Affair," Dunkirk Evening Observer (Dunkirk, N. Y.), February 5, 1923, p. 5. 
The deed for the property Sidney purchased in 1891 is available from FamilySearch.
"New York Land Records, 1630–1975," images, FamilySearch ( : 18 June 2017), Chautauqua > Deeds 1889-1892 vol 238-239 > image 413 of 668; county courthouses, New York.
The deed for Greenridge farm is not included in that collection, although there is an entry for the purchase in the Grantee index, which is also available at FamilySearch.
"New York Land Records, 1630-1975," images, FamilySearch ( : 22 May 2014), Chautauqua > Grantees 1902-1910 vol A-Z > image 679 of 811; county courthouses, New York.

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