Scene of devastation from the cyclone (tornado) of 1894, taken from the top of the Strong Mansion along Huron Avenue, looking mostly east. Five people died, over 30 were injured and about 100 left homeless.
Scene of devastation from the cyclone (tornado) of 1894, taken from the top of the Strong Mansion along Huron Avenue, looking mostly east. Five people died, over 30 were injured and about 100 left homeless.
With all the Smiths in the world, it is surprising only two columns have appeared here regarding Smiths in nine years of columns. The story on Johnston and Emeline Smith is a tale of Scotch-Irish ancestry that ended mostly in California. Each grew up in their Vermont communities, they married, and struggled with rock-strewn soil on their small farm. After their three Civil War veteran sons married, the entire family, including three more children, moved to richer farmland near Spring Valley.

The elder Smith bought land northwest of town and had a two-story brick home built with a large lawn populated with hard maples, seedlings brought from Vermont. Oldest son Jim and family bought acreage just to the east; Charles and family lived in the northeast part of town along Farmer Street; and son Rufus moved to California. Daughter Helen married Solomon Garfield and they settled on a farm near Hamilton. Ella married William T. Thayer and they raised three sons, Charles, Frank and Clyde, and two daughters, Nora and Ava, on a farm to the west. Ava married Frank Hess, and their family lived on the farm during my lifetime.

Son Frank Smith married Hattie Harris from near Racine, and they continued to make their home on the "Brick House Farm." Four daughters were born there, and they attended what was called Cramp-Rose District. Eventually the family moved into Spring Valley, where a new house was built on North Section Avenue. They had lived there only three years when the "Cyclone of 1894" lifted their house off its foundation. Daughter Estella told this story: "The cyclone lifted our house 15 to 20 feet straight into the air and about intact, carried it some distance northeast and dropped it where the hay barn had stood. It seemed to have landed on a corner as the floors, ceiling and walls were thus spread apart, avoiding crushing those of us who went with it. Mother and Father were at the Andersen Opera House for the stock company play, "Ten Nights in a Barroom." My aunt, Jessie Harris, the seamstress Sally Williams, my sister Barbara and myself survived the ride and crash, battered and bruised, but no bones broken." Within a year, a duplicate house was built on the same foundation; sisters Kate and Estella graduated from Spring Valley High School in 1898 and 1900. Barbara and Estella completed their schooling in California and taught there, Estella retiring in 1948 after 41 years.

Estella reported that grandfather Johnston Smith went to California via the Isthmus Mule-Pack Route from Vermont as one of the Forty-Niners, but returned to his Vermont farm before coming to Minnesota. Estella came back to Spring Valley in 1948-49 to find the Brick House Farm still in good shape, the original peony beds, lilacs and snowball bushes still thriving. (The brick house is long gone, replaced by a modern home.) She noted the "cyclone house had been enlarged and modernized by the Kinder family and the grounds were made smaller to make room for additional houses."

A side note regarding Frank Hess who married Ava Smith. His father was Eddmond Hess, coming from New York to work on the Milwaukee Railroad when it came through town in the 1870s. The men worked with shovels and wheelbarrows, an arduous task, and he soon found other work in the harvest fields of a Mr. Stewart near Racine. At that time, grain was cut by hand and left in the field for men to tie in bundles and stack. Help was hard to come by, and Mr. Stewart told him if he stayed through harvest, he would pay him $3 a day, a most unusually high wage. He did. In 1872, Eddmond was helping build Parsons Stone Block on South Broadway, hauling those heavy stone blocks, some from as far away as Mantorville, by horse and wagon. He married in 1872 to Maria Loucks and they lived on the farm west of town. They had seven children, one of whom was Frank Hess, and a name I remember from long ago.

Another side note: Parson's Stone Block, built in 1872, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Described as "High Victorian Italianate" style with seven arches both on ground level and upper level, it is a handsome structure on Broadway. Over the years, it housed countless businesses such as Parson's offices, Otto Chiostri's Oyster Parlor, a restaurant, Coast to Coast Store, Rosenberg's People's Store, and many others. The hall upstairs was rented to the Masonic and other lodge organizations. Bud Hughes operated it as a furniture store in 1971, and then sold it to the VFW.

Times do change.