In 1913, the sky fell in on Frank Smith, the Borax King. Apparently, Frank had never understood financing on a grand scale; he always financed his endeavors with short term loans. The banks around California were always holding a lot of his paper. In 1913, the bank auditors for the State of California made note of his paper and advised the banks not to hold so much of it. They started calling in his loans, one after another, and Frank was unable to pay them all back at once. When the dust settled, and the Bank Committee, appointed by all the banks concerned, determined his holdings, it was clear, when weighing assets and debt, that Frank was worth over $2 million dollars. Still he was required to turn all of his assets over to the Committee, and he never saw a cent of it. He lost his borax mines -- his assets, and his investments in land, ferries, and trains -- his liabilities. He was broke. His lifestyle -- private railroad car and boats -- were all taken from him and sold. An effort was made to take away his homes as well, but that law suit, which was protracted and ugly, failed. Evelyn retained her property.
In 1913, he was 67 years old, a father of four children under 5, the owner of two huge houses with large budgets, and broke, with apparently no prospects.
Frank’s and Evelyn’s stress for the next few years was palpable, but the children when interviewed years later, said that they were protected from it.
The Suffolk Times reported on June 28, 1913, “L. R. Edwards saw four deer feeding in his orchard, at Sag Harbor, on Sunday. Deer have been increasing in number in the locality for some years. They are believed to have originated from animals owned by F. M. Smith, at his Shelter Island preserve, and which swam across to the Mainland.”
On August 18, the paper stated: “Much sympathy is expressed for Mr. Frank Smith on account of his business reverses, although the amount of his liabilities is greatly exaggerated. His handsome residence Pre de Leau is for sale and many prospective purchasers have visited it.” It appears that the Smith family did not make their annual trip to Shelter Island in 1913.
But, in 1914, the Smith family returned to Presdeleau in early June. That August a huge art exhibit, including over two hundred paintings by local and other artists, was held at the Masonic Hall in Greenport to benefit Eastern Long Island Hospital. Evelyn, among many, was a patroness. The family left for Oakland in mid September.
The only mention of a Smith presence on the Island in 1915 is of another deer -- this one a dead buck -- being found on the grounds of the Taylor property in North Haven and the speculation that it had escaped from Frank’s preserve and swam across.
In 1916, the Smith family arrived on Shelter Island in early July and departed in mid-October. That Spring Island farmers were complaining bitterly about the wild deer and how, year after year, they were destroying their crops. The State Conservation Commission sent a team of over 30 hunters from upstate to Shelter Island to shoot the deer. Animal lovers complained vigorously. The hunt turned into an attempt to capture them. The whole effort to solve the deer problem failed utterly. (Click here to read the reports from the Suffolk Times.)
Another topic that Summer was the appropriation in the State Legislature to fund a bridge between Shelter Island and North Haven. The plan met generally with approval.
1916 was also a year of intense concern about infantile paralysis. After July 31, children under 15 were barred from coming to the Island and none were permitted at public gatherings. New York schools did not open until October 1. The Smith family with four children under ten, did not venture far from the family compound that summer.
A Second Fortune