|A Death and a New Beginning
On New Year’s Eve of 1905 in Oakland, California, after an exhausting day shopping and preparing for a trip to Cairo, Egypt, Mollie, age 60, took to her bed shortly before dinner to rest a while. She died of a massive stroke. A year before, after suffering a minor heart attack, she had remarked to a friend that if she died, Frank would surely take another wife, and she hoped it would be Evelyn Kate Ellis, her secretary, and one of the Solid Six.
And, indeed, according to the Suffolk Times on January 24, 1906, Frank and Evelyn, (born December 11, 1878) who was young enough to be his daughter, married. They made a wedding tour of the West Indies in his steam yacht Hauoli. Frank was 61 years old and a multi-millionaire. He controlled the biggest Borax company in the world. At the same time, he was embarked on many development and transportation projects in the Oakland-Berkeley area. And, he was soon to become a father for the first time. Between late 1907 and early 1913, Evelyn had four children: Evelyn, Dorothy, Mildred, and Frank, Jr.
There is scant mention of the Smith family in the Suffolk Times in those years because Evelyn was busy raising children and not organizing charitable fetes. The family routine changed little, Arbor Villa in Oakland in the winter and Presdeleau on Shelter Island in the summer. Over the years, Frank transferred ownership in both estates to Evelyn.
Life did go on at Presdeleau, with the staff’s maintaining the standard of living that the owners expected. Hildebrand explains:
"At Presdeleau, the family had an opportunity to relax undisturbed, although intimate friends were frequent visitors. Because it was summertime, the children had plenty of chances to play. Here the favorite spots were the old Cartwright wing of the house—which was firmly believed to be haunted—and, of course, the woods and deer park. The barn and stables were also an attraction, along with the horses. There was also the magnificent beach on Smith Cove, and the punts for clamming, crabbing, and eeling in the lagoon. A long narrow concrete walk ran down from the house to the little Japanese bridge by the weirs from the lagoon. Each child had his or her initials and footprint embedded in the cement (at Arbor Villa, each child planted a special Norfolk pine on the grounds). Every morning Evelyn would take her three little girls down to the dock for their morning bath. When the dressmaker made them new dresses, their mother would have them swim in them first, to shrink the clothes to size.
“Gus Carlson was always on hand at Presdeleau to drive the family around the island. In addition, there were the Chinese houseboys—now probably in late middle-age—to take care of the cooking and serving, and to teach young Frank the mysteries of Chinese kites. Ah Fun—just “Fun” to the family—was the leader and favorite among the children.”
The May 5, 1906 issue of the Suffolk Times reported that Frank was having a 90 foot yacht built at City Island which was to be ready for a trial run about May 25.
In 1908, the Smith family did not arrive at Presdeleau until September.
On March 27, 1909, the Suffolk Times reported that the “Schooner Catawamteak, from Rockport Maine, arrived with 150 tons of ice for Messrs F. M. Smith and Artemas Ward of South Ferry, arrived Monday.” When ice could be cut from local fresh water ponds it was. But many winters were too mild, and in those ice was imported from Maine. Major ice consumers were the Prospect and Manhanset houses, Artemas Ward and Frank Smith.
On April 3, “Fred Downs and family have lately removed from the late Dr. S. B. Nicoll farm where he has been employed for a number of years, to the cottage of T. Abbott Sherman, and is now engaged to work on Presdeleau Farm.” On June 5, the paper reported a fire caused by lightening destroyed the large barn at the farm of the late S. B. Nicoll and consumed about 40 tons of hay and a mowing machine belonging to Thomas C. Preston. “Mr. Wallace, superintendent of the F. M. Smith farm, saw the fire and made quick time in getting there with his force of men and doing good work detaching the building by cutting away fence boards and also forming a bucket brigade whereby the residence was saved.” On June 11, the paper reported that F. M. Smith and his family had arrived at his summer home.
The September 18 issue of the Suffolk Times reported, “F. M. Smith and family with guests enjoyed a day’s outing at their log cabin on the south side of Coecles Harbor last week, where a famous Rhode Island clam bake was prepared and heartily pertaken of.” Gertrude Tuthill Robinson described such an event, “Rhode Island clambakes were regular prepared by Mr. Chichester, a past master of this art of hot stove and rock weed baking buried in sand.”
On September 25, the paper reported that “Mr. William Wallace, ex superintendent of F. M. Smith’s farm, is occupying a cottage of R. G. Duvall at the Heights.” And, on October 9, the paper reported that F. M. Smith and family had departed the Island by “special car.” On October 16, the news was that “Mr. P. T. McNamara has extended his poultry yards and recently purchased of F. M. Smith, his valuable white homer pigeons, from which he expects to raise stock for sale.”
The October 30 issue reported, “We are told that considerable work is being done at F. M. Smith’s place where a force of men are making a concrete bulkhead along the shore to the large dock and that in the near future a channel forty feet wide will be dug leading into the creek just below his summer residence.” On December 11, readers learned that “James, the man of blasts, was seen and heard Saturday last holding the ‘Fort’ at the log cabin of F. M. Smith on what is know as Cedar Island in Coecles Harbor.”
There was more excitement reported on December 18: “While crossing South ferry last Saturday, Capt. Low Halsey, accompanied by Dr. Taylor of Sag Harbor, saw Mr. Buck swimming toward North Haven. They immediately started in pursuit to render their assistance. After an exciting experience and a lively tussle they succeeded in capturing the deer and getting him into the ferry boat, he being a reluctant passenger. The deer weighed 150 pounds and was of a lively disposition. Capt. Halsey was obliged to secure the deer’s extremities as he was making rapid progress for the cabin. The deer belonged to Mr. F. M. Smith’s herd and was delivered to E. S. Downs, no worse off for his sail.”
In January 1910, ice harvesting was in process for the F. M. Smith farm. On April 16, the Suffolk Times reported that “Mrs. Eugene Lucas and Mrs. Edward Downs (twin sisters) entertained a company of friends Saturday evening last at the home of Mrs. Downs at ‘Presdeleau,’ the event being their birthday. At the close of the evening’s pleasures, a nice collation was served. We extend birthday greetings.” The July 9 issue reported that F. M. Smith and his family had arrived at Presdeleau. On July 23, it reported that “F. M. Smith is having several bath houses built, after putting a foundation under the original part of his residence at Presdeleau. The work is under the supervision of C. W. Reeve.” On August 6, the paper reported that F. M. Smith had bought the property of Mrs. J. Monroe Wallace near South Ferry. On September 17, the paper reported that Mr. F. M. Smith appreciated the kindness of Miss Becky Lenhart, the telegraph operator at the Heights, and her office work and at the end of the season presented her with a check for five dollars. In mid-November, the F. M. Smith family departed for Oakland on their “fine steamer Hauoli” via New York.
The December 24 issue of the Suffolk Times reported that a business partnership between Frank Colton Havens and Frank Smith had been dissolved: “A business deal involving millions has been consummated at Oakland, Cal., [Mr. Havens] having disposed of his great traction holdings to F. M. Smith, who is more generally known as ‘the Borax King,’ and has a summer residence on Shelter Island.
“Mr. Havens is a son of the late Wickham Havens, of Sag Harbor, and has a summer home there. Smith and Havens were the controlling owners of the Realty Syndicate of Oakland, Cal., with its many subsidiary street railways, ferries, water, electric light and power companies. Havens, it is understood receives about $2,400,000 for his interest in the traction companies, and still retains control of the water companies. His holdings in the realty syndicate and other business ventures are estimated at $2,000,000 more. Mr. Smith is left in complete control of the traction interests.”
In December 1910, Frank’s superintendent, Edward Downs harvested ice because it was unusually cold. More ice was delivered from Maine in April 1911 by the Schooner Cattawamteak.
In March 1911, a dispute was settled between Frank and the merchant Abram W. Allen over goods and services worth $600. The referee, district attorney Furman, found in Mr. Allen’s favor and Frank was required to pay.
The Suffolk Times reported on April 29: “Messrs. Loper Bros., of Port Jefferson, have the contract to raise and enlarge the handsome residence of F. M. Smith, also to make many extensive improvements on the way for the work. At present there are about forty men employed on the place laying pipes for water supply, electric service and other work.” The May 6th edition, expanded: “The Port Jefferson Times says: ‘Walter Hopkins left Monday for Shelter Island where he has charge of the work being done by Loper Bros. on the home of F. M. Smith, the borax king. The work includes extensive additions and alterations. Mr. Hopkins will be away the greater part of the summer and will be accompanied by his wife.’”
Frank and his family left Oakland on May 25 in his private car for their annual journey across the country for the summer on Shelter Island. They were expected to arrive by June 10.
On July 29, the Suffolk Times reported: “An unexpected visitor paid a call at the beautiful cottage of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Edeson, Strongheart House, on North Haven, some days ago. It came by water route from Shelter Island and made itself very much at home on the Edeson lawn.
“It was a full buck deer and had escaped from the preserve of F. M. Smith, at Presdeleau near South Ferry. The swim across is a distance of nearly a mile, and the deer was so exhausted when it landed it was captured without difficulty.”
In late June Frank and Evelyn attended the Yacht Club’s Commodore’s Tea held at the home of Commodore and Mrs. Stephen P. Sturges on West Neck.
Electricity came to Presdeleau in September 1911, when a private plant was installed.
The annual harvest festival to raise funds for the library was held on September 5 in Union Chapel. Although there had been a severe drought, the farmers of the Island exhibited “all varieties of vegetables ... far ahead of what was expected..” Local farmers were joined in participation by farmers employed by the gentlemen farmers, Miss Cornelia Horsford, Stephen E. Baldwin of Hilo, John W. Weber of West Neck, and Frank Smith with vegetables, flowers, chickens and pigeons.
In October a new cottage on the Presdeleau grounds for Superintendent Downs was nearly completed, and the Smith family cruised to New York City on the Hauoli for a pleasure trip.
Apparently hard northeasterly storms and high tides had eroded the banks of Cedar Island on the north side, and Frank installed a substantial concrete bulkhead to protect the Island.
In late October, Walter Hopkins and his wife, who had been in residence at Presdeleau through the summer supervising the work there returned to Port Jefferson for the winter.
It was not until late November that the Smiths left Shelter Island to return to Oakland.
In 1912, the March 30 issue of the Suffolk Times reported, “Superintendent Edward S. Downs of Presdeleau, F. M. Smith’s summer home on the Island, has been kept busy of late with his force of men and teams, having had two schooner loads of stable manure from New York to unload. Also catching and shipping away a number of fine deer (does) and in the meantime received an assignment of ‘Bucks’ from up state.” Further work was reported on May 4: “Superintendent Edward S. Downs, of the F. M. Smith property, is replacing the ornamental trees along the public highway of Mr. Smith’s large tract of land.” On November 11, the paper reported that “C. C. Cartwright is doing considerable work on the Zabriskie cottage owned by F. M. Smith.