Biography of Jacob Smith

Jacob Smith, of Topeka, was one of the notable pioneers of Kansas. He lived in this state half a century. During this time he distinguished himself by a large degree of constructive enterprise in various business affairs. He was a pioneer merchant at Topeka, was also one of the early county officials, was a banker, was interested in the building of railroads and was throughout noted as a man of unusual sound judgment, of great foresight and discernment, and of absolute integrity. The record of his life as given in the following paragraphs is essentially a part of Kansas history.

He was born in Berks County, Pennsylvania, near Reading, June 24, 1829, and died at his home in Topeka, November 30, 1908. His parents and grandparents were natives of Pennsylvania, their families having come to this country from Leipsic, Germany, at a very early date.

When he was two years old in 1831 his father, John Smith, and mother, Hannah Darsham, moved to Somerset, Perry County, Ohio. He received a good education in the country schools and one item of his early experience was clerking in the Boyden Store, where one of his classmates, Phil Sheridan, was also employed. Phil Sheridan later became the dashing cavalry leader and one of the most distinguished generals of the Civil war.

In April, 1852, Jacob Smith married Jane K. Von Cannon, at Tiffin, Ohio. Their wedding journey was to Bluffton, Indiana, where they were to make their home, and there Mr. Smith set up in the mercantile business. His daughter, Ida, was born there in 1855.

In 1857 Jacob Smith decided to come to Kansas. He left on March 5th for St. Louis, where on March 10th he took passage on the steamer Morning Star for Westport Landing, now Kansas City. The Morning Star and other steamers of its class were well appointed large boats and did a rushing business in passengers and freight between St. Louis and Kansas City. After six days he arrived at Westport, a small town of about 500 population, containing a two-story hotel and a few small stores. He remained there all night and the next morning arranged with a man named Green to take him to Lawrence. The stage at that time made only one trip a week. He crossed into Kansas and soon came to the Methodist Mission in charge of Rev. Thomas Johnson. There he met Rev. Mr. Johnson’s son, Col. A. S. Johnson and a friendship began which lasted a lifetime. After arriving in Lawrence he determined to proceed to Topeka, and spent the night at a Mrs. Allen’s near Big Springs. Mrs. Allen furnished bed and meals to travelers. On arriving at Topeka he stopped at the Garvey House at the corner of Kansas Avenue and Fifth Street.

Purchasing a claim west of Tecumseh on the river, Mr. Smith lived on it three months and then sold out at a good profit for $600, that money constituting his real capital for the beginning of a business career in Kansas. Returning to Topeka from his claim he engaged in the tinware business at 195 Kansas Avenue. In August of the same year he went back to Bluffton and brought his wife and baby West to their new home in Kansas. He was in St. Louis long enough to purchase a stock of hardware for a new store. This stock was freighted by steamer to Westport and wagon to Topeka. It required from six to eight days to make the round trip according to the condition of the roads.

According to an advertisement found in the Topeka State Record of January 14, 1860, Jacob Smith carried “a full line of stoves, iron steel hardware, window glass and agricultural implements, offering them at low rates wholesale and retail–largest assortment of cook, parlor and box stoves in the territory.” J. Cole had charge of the tin shop connected with the store. Later his partners were E. H. Blake and George D. Hale. In 1879 Mr. Smith sold to Mr. Hale. Some years later the W. A. L. Thompson Hardware Company was formed, and Mr. Smith was given the honorary position of president of that firm, an office he held until his death.

In 1867 Jacob Smith bought three lots on the corner of Harrison and Fifth streets, and there built the house and planted the trees on the grounds where his family still reside. These were the lots on which the first schoolhouse of Topeka was built in 1857. The lots had been set apart by the Town Association in 1856, and the Emigrant Aid Society was to build the schoolhouse in consideration of other lots which were given to it by the town company. The society did not erect a building until 1857, when a brick structure 18 by 24 feet, two stories in height, was put on the back of the lot facing north on Fifth and Harrison. This was the first schoolhouse in the city and James Cowles was the first principal. When Mr. Smith bought the lots the schoolhouse was torn down, and the bricks and windows were used in the stable which still stands on the grounds, and after fifty-nine years they are in good condition.

For many years Mr. Smith also owned a large stock farm east of Topeka and across the river from the claim he first purchased. As the town grew the Bank of Topeka was started, of which he was one of the organizers and incorporators, and he was elected director and vice president on December 30, 1868, and for seven years served as president, from 1870 to 1877. Jacob Smith was also one of the first directors and stockholders of the Midland Railroad running from Topeka to Kansas City, now a part of the Santa Fe System. For a time he was also president of the De Soto and Pleasant Hill Railroad.

During the last twenty-five or thirty years of his life Mr. Smith was practically retired from business. He was a great traveler, and no one enjoyed traveling more. By his wide intercourse with men and affairs he had gained a large fund of information, and was also a great reader, a close observer and had a splendid memory. In the early days he was quite active in politics. He served as treasurer of Shawnee County from 1861 to 1866, during the Civil war period. During the war he took part in the Battle of the Blue on Colonel Vaele’s staff, and on October 22, 1864, was commissioned sergeant of the Second Kansas State Militia. He was a member of Lincoln Post No. 1, G. A. R. It 1867 he was elected a councilman. Socially he was a member of the Ananias and Topeka clubs, and was affiliated with Masonic Lodge No. 17, at Topeka.

His first wife died February 18, 1859, leaving two daughters: Ida and Jessie. Jessie died in 1879, soon after her graduation from Bethany College. In 1866 Jacob Smith married Sarah Y. Linderman of Kansas City. She died in 1889. The only surviving child of this pioneer Kansan is Ida, who was married June 7, 1876, to W. A. L. Thompson of Topeka. They have two children, Helen, who married Harry W. Donaldson, and Roy T., who married Cornelia Gleed and has a son, Gleed Thompson.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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