A few weeks ago, this writer tread a curved stone walk to the front door of an imposing residence which for many years was the home of one of Lincoln’s citizens. Word had gotten abroad that the master of this house was on the verge of leaving the old home to live with a daughter in another state.
A pleasant lady opened the door and invited the caller to sit in front of a beautiful fireplace in which leaping flames licked at a crackling log. Excusing herself momentarily, the gracious hostess sought her father in another room to announce the presence of a visitor.
Much of the furniture had been moved and dismantled for storage or disposal. Yet dignity reigned notwithstanding the disruption of deeply rooted habits – a dignity permeated by tender memories. A delightful person whose character far outshone his frail-like physique appeared presently and modestly denied having ever done anything extraordinary in his well-lived existence which is approaching its eighty-seventh milestone.
J. Albert Smith, the oldest of seven children – three of whom are living – was born in Michigan in 1853. His parents came to Kanas in a two-horse covered wagon when their second child was a baby. Mr. Smith’s father bought the right to the land on which he settled in the southwest corner of Brown county, Kansas. It was not until some years later that boards replaced the damp earthen floor of their first Kansas home -- an inadequately heated one-room log cabin built beside a wooded stream that touched the Missouri border and which consequently played a signifcant role in activities associated with the feverish pre-Civil War days that were concluded only by the painful molding of a reunited North and South.
The elder Mr. Smith, a station agent on the famous "underground railroad," harbored countless fugitives who, coming from a station 15 miles to the south, would seek refuge through the hospitality of Mr. Smith for a day or two before continuing to the station 14 miles farther north under Mr. Smith’s guidance by night. The Smith children never knew where their father concealed the followers of the "grapevine."
The name of one of the many people who found shelter under the Smiths’ roof has been immortalized by historical documents. A famous Kansan, John Brown, and about 40 of his followers, including several slaves, reached the Smiths’ abode about midnight shortly after the Battle of Spurs. They continued on their way to Canada the next morning after releasing two prisoners that had been captured enroute. Mr. Smith recalls that the aforementioned party had been delayed a few days before reaching his father’s "station" due to the birth of a child of one of the slaves. Although perilously detained because of the little child, named "John Brown" in honor of the fearless leader, the party reached their destination, Canada, safely.
Determined to educate himself, J. Albert Smith, at the age of 20, left the parental home which was hardly equal to providing for nine people. Working out, wherever he could, the young man succeeded in preparing himself for the teaching profession.
Mr. Smith taught four years in a country school, and three years in the Seneca school. Before leaving Seneca, he had obtained 14 months’ experience in the field of journalism while filling the office of local editor for the "Courier."
When he arrived at Lincoln in the fall of 1884, Mr. J. Albert Smith founded a hardware business on the present site of Lincoln’s post office. A year later, he moved his store to the building now housing Dodds’ Hardware, at which place Mr. Smith maintained his establishment for 25 and one half years before retiring on account of his health, which was partially restored thereafter.
Mr. J. Albert Smith, bereft of a true and noble companion by the death of his devoted wife last year, is the father of two children who survive a sister killed in an auto accident a few years ago. A daughter, Mrs. Stanley Mohr, resides with her family in Grandfield, Okla.; and a son, Dr. Roy K. Smith, and his wife, missionaries from the Presbyterian church, are stationed in India. Mr. Smith, loyal to the Presbyterian faith, finds great comfort in having assisted with the building and furnishing of Lincoln’s Presbyterian church which replaced the former structure that was destroyed by fire several years ago.
Reading as much as his eyesight would allow, and practicing horticultural pursuits the past fifty years, have been Mr. Smith’s chief hobbies. Having broken some ties, he has lost interest in the gardening which served as pleasant pastime over an extended period of years, but the profusion of tulips for which Mr. Smith has been noted each year have bloomed again, gloriously beautiful, to remind his many friends of a highly respected gentleman in his absence.