Biography of John H. Smythe

John H. Smythe. The life of John Henry Smythe, who for many years had served as city clerk of Eureka, had been one that exemplifies the true spirit and practice of service. He had always been a worker. He had performed faithfully those duties that have come to him in a long career, whether as a soldier on the battlefield, as an employe of business concerns, or as a public official. While he had attained none of the conspicuous places in business or public life, there is much that is honorable, instructive and praiseworthy in what he had done, and he deserves all the fine esteem paid him by his many loyal friends in Greenwood County, where he had lived for about thirty-seven years.

Mr. Smythe was born at Nittany Hall in Center County, Pennsylvania, July 4, 1836, and had already passed the age of fourscore. His grandfather was a very prominent man of Pennsylvania. His name was William Smythe and he was born in County Down, Ireland, in 1770. When seventeen years of age he came to America, arriving in the same year that the Constitution of the United States was formulated and before the union of the colonies had become really effective. He located in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, and subsequently removed to Center County. He attained a place of influence in the latter county, and was a member of the convention that adopted the Pennsylvania Constitution. For two terms he represented Center County in the State Legislature. As a young man he joined the forces called out by President Washington to put down the whiskey rebellion in Southwestern Pennsylvania. By occupation he was a farmer. His death occurred near Jacksonville in Center County, Pennsylvania, in 1863, when about ninety-three years of age. He married Mary Johnston, who also died in Center County.

William Smythe, Jr., father of John Henry, was born in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, October 22, 1799. He grew up in that county but was married in Center County. Aside from a brief experience as a merchant he followed farming all his active career. In politics he was a loyal whig until the dissolution of that party and afterwards voted and supported the republican organization. He was for many years an elder in the Presbyterian Church and was affiliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. His death occurred at Freeport, Illinois, during the winter of 1880, when eighty-one years of age. Thus long life is apparently a characteristic of this branch of the Smythe family. William Smythe, Jr., married Margaret Watson, who was born at Clintonville, Pennsylvania, in 1804 and died at Nittany Hall in the same state in April, 1856. Of their children, Elizabeth, the oldest, died at Valley Falls, Kansas, the widow of Greenberry Shearer, who as a Union soldier was killed at the battle of Williamsburg May 5, 1862. Mary, the second daughter, also died at Valley Falls, Kansas, married Israel B. Shaeffer, who is now deceased and was a farmer by occupation. William W. is a retired merchant at Freeport, Illinois. The fourth in age is John Henry Smythe. Helen, who died at Denver, Colorado, married for her first husband H. C. Hutchinson and for her second Thomas Stanley. Sarah J., who died at Denver, Colorado, married John M. Essington a real estate man. Homer S. died on his farm in South Dakota.

John Henry Smythe received his early education in the district schools of Center County, Pennsylvania. He put in three years learning the printing trade at Bellefonte in Center County. After that he took a business course in the Iron City Commercial College at Pittsburg, and followed his graduation was given a place as bookkeeper at Washington Furnace, Pennsylvania.

The war had not been long in progress when he resigned his commercial work and volunteered to defend the Union. He enlisted August 14, 1861, in Company E of the Forty-ninth Pennsylvania Infantry. He was in service until mustered out May 22, 1862. He was in the Peninsular campaign under General McClellan, and fought at the battles of Lees Mills and at Williamsburg. Following his honorable discharge from the army Mr. Smythe came west to Jeffersonville, Indiana, spent a few months in the general ticket office under the general ticket agent for the Jeffersonville-Madison Railroad Company. He was then employed as general bookkeeper in the treasurer’s office until the fall of 1864. His next experience was as bookkeeper for a large coal mining company at St. Johns, Illinois, and in 1866 he removed to Murfreesboro, Illinois, and was employed by a lumbering firm for a year. During 1868-69 Mr. Smythe was in the grocery business at Chicago, but sold out and established a boot and shoe business at Monroe, Wisconsin, which he conducted a year and continued in the same business at Darlington in that state. In 1871 he moved his store to Sterling, Illinois, and at the end of a year closed out. In 1872-80 he was employed as clerk in the secretary’s office of the Union Stock Yards Company in Chicago.

Mr. Smythe first knew Eureka as a town and community in 1880. He arrived on May 5th of that year, and followed the sheep business in Greenwood County until the next spring. In the fall of 1883 he began work in a printing office of the Greenwood County Republican, being employed there for a year. For four years he was bookkeeper in a grain firm, was express agent for the Missouri Pacific Railway at Eureka a short time, and in 1888 was elected by his fellow citizens to the office of clerk of the District Court. He filled that position two years, and from 1890 to 1892 was deputy county clerk. In 1893 Mr. Smythe was appointed city clerk of Eureka and he had held that office continuously for nearly twenty-four years. Any one who had business at the office testifies to the genial manners and the efficient system maintained by Mr. Smythe, and there is no one who had a better knowledge of the city affairs and takes greater pains to render a real service.

In 1894 Mr. Smythe organized the Building and Loan Association of Eureka, and held the office of secretary until he resigned in August, 1916. Besides his office as city clerk he also conducts an abstract business.

Mr. Smythe is an old line republican, and was almost old enough to vote when that party put out its first presidential candidate in 1856. He is an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, is affiliated with Fidelity Lodge, No. 106, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, Eureka Chapter, No. 45, Royal Arch Masons, Queen Bess Chapter, No. 56, of the Eastern Star, and belongs to Dick Yates Post, No. 50, of the Grand Army of the Republic. Mr. Smythe and family occupy a modern residence which he owned on Fifth and Oak streets.

On October 3, 1866, at St. Johns, Illinois, Mr. Smythe married Miss Mary J. Leavenworth. Her parents were Charles and Sophia (Gibson) Leavenworth, both now deceased. Her father was a flour miller. In the half century since their marriage the children of Mr. and Mrs. Smythe have grown to manhood and womanhood, and they are now filling useful positions in the world. William L., the oldest, is a printer living at Sedalia, Missouri. H. W. Smythe is also a printer by trade and is connected with the Wichita Eagle at Wichita. Minnie H. is the wife of R. L. Casebier, a real estate man at Topeka, Kansas. Flora R. still resided with her father and is employed in the office of Dr. W. T. Grove. Mayme is the wife of M. D. Warriner, a traveling salesman whose home is at Council Bluffs, Iowa.



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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