Biography of William H. Smith

William H. Smith, who owns and occupies one of the beautiful and attractive country homes near Urbana, represents one of the oldest and most prominent pioneer families of this county.

Here Mr. Smith was born July 22, 1844, a son of Jacob and Margaret J. (Beattie) Smith. His father was a native of Shelby County, Kentucky, and his mother of Virginia. Margaret Beattie went to Kentucky with her parents at the age of eight years, and somewhat later the family went on to Missouri. While en route through that state they were both taken ill, and both died near Jefferson City. They were survived by seven children, who then had to shift for themselves. Margaret Beattie grew up almost among strangers, and after her marriage to Jacob Smith they migrated to Illinois with the Webber family and the family of Stephen Boyd.

It was about 1833 that the Smith family came into Champaign County. That was a very early year in the history of this county, and they located on land now included in Urbana Township. At that time the town of Urbana did not exist. Jacob Smith went to Danville to enter more than t!00 acres of land, at the regular Government price of $1.25 per acre. He was a man of unusual industry and business ability and acquired a large estate. He and his wife had ten children, two of whom died in infancy. The others received their education in the district school known as the Bromley School No. 4, and grew to maturity, married and settled down, the sons becoming progressive farmers and men of recognized ability and success.

William H. Smith grew up in Champaign County and remained at home assisting in the management of his father’s farm for a number of years. On August 22, 1880, he laid the foundation of his own home by his marriage to Miss Emma Elder. Mrs. Smith was born at Decatur in Brown County, Ohio, daughter of Robert and Elizabeth (Mattox) Elder, her father a native of Pennsylvania and her mother of Ohio. Mrs. Smith was one of nine children. When she was a small child her parents moved to Illinois and settled near the Star schoolhouse. In that school Mrs. Smith obtained her first instruction, beginning to attend when only five years of age. Her sister Bell Elder qualified as a teacher in Champaign County at the age of sixteen and for a number of terms taught school.

After the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Smith they decided to establish themselves in a comparatively new country and went to the State of Texas, locating in one of the rugged and semi-mountainous districts of that great state. There Mr. Smith took up the sheep industry for ten years and at times had a flock of 1,500. He also engaged in the cattle business, the open range affording a fine opportunity for grazing. Mr. and Mrs. Smith lived in Texas for about twenty-five years. In the meantime nine children were born to them, named Grace, Elizabeth, Ruby, Willie, Mervin, Mada, Robert, Fred and Erma. The children Mada and Robert died in infancy. The others obtained their first advantages in the public schools of Texas and were then sent North to complete their training in the Urbana High School. It is an interesting fact that Professor J. W. Hayes, the venerable educator, was not only one of Mrs. Smith’s instructors but also taught some of her children. At the present time Fred Smith is a student in the University of Illinois, while Erma is in the Urbana High School. The other children are all established in homes of their own.

Grace Smith married Sidney Prince, who is a contractor and builder at Fisher, Illinois. Their two children are Sidney and Nellie. Elizabeth Smith is the wife of E. J. Dunn, a farmer living at Urbana and their four children are Clyde, Louis, Emma and Roy. Ruby Smith married J. R.. Saddler, a farmer at Ames, Iowa. They have two children, Frances and Henry. The daughter Willie married Ralph Dunn, and they live on a farm near the Smith homestead. Their four children are Frank, Ruth, Ralph and Wilma. Mervin Smith married Verna Johnson and has one daughter, Laura Emma.

About thirteen years ago Mr. and Mrs. Smith returned from Texas to the scenes of their early youth. In the meantime Mr. Smith had acquired 300 acres of Illinois farm land. On returning to Champaign County he located on a farm of 100 acres east of Urbana. Mr. Smith bought this land a number of years ago at prices ranging from $40 to $75 an acre. When he acquired it the land had no improvements, and eighty acres was a continuous grass sod. He has used time and means in developing it, has added many fruit and shade trees, and has a commodious residence situated on a slight eminence, surrounded by a fine grove of stately trees.

Mr. Smith is an ardent Democrat, and believes that President Wilson is the man of the hour and has the ability and the wisdom to bring the ship of state out of troubled waters.

The Smith farm is a place of much interest from an archaeological standpoint. At one time an Indian village stood on the land. Indian arrowheads have been picked up from the ground, and in a hollow are found many wild cucumber vines which competent authorities say the Indians planted. Mr. Smith has in his possession a fine specimen of Indian whetstone. It was made from a piece of petrified hickory wood, and through the center is bored a hole, through which a buckskin thong was strung so as to make it more convenient to carry.



Stewart, J. R. A Standard History of Champaign County Illinois. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York. 1918.

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