However, Frank’s creditors were still not paid. The Central National Bank of Oakland (California) brought an action in the New York courts in Rensselaer County to collect on an obligation of $101,481.60, secured a judgment for that amount, docketed the judgment with the Clerk of Suffolk County on September 27, 1921, and secured a levy and order to auction his interest in all real and personal property in the County. The Suffolk Times reported on February 10, 1922 that 560 acres were to be sold. The April 7, 1922 issue reported that “A good sized crowd gathered last Thursday afternoon for the auction at F. M. Smith’s. The farm tools and horses were sold also a large auto of a make now out of date. The auto went at a low price as did the other things. The household goods were not sold as was planned owing to a legal formality which had not been entirely complied with.” The April 21st issue reported that the ”auction of furniture . . . was again called off . . as it was said that the goods were the property of Mrs. Smith. The land, however, was sold at Riverhead . . .” The Suffolk Times reported on April 28 that the thirteen parcels of real estate were bid in for $82,401, with one parcel being bought by Artemas Ward for $200 and the remainder by the Central National Bank of Oakland.
Frank had acquired Presdeleau and the immediately adjoining property in the name of his first wife, Mary R. Smith. When she died in 1905, her property passed to Frank under her will. In 1912 Frank deeded that property to Evelyn, consisting of the residence acquired from Hannah Cartwright in 1892, the property immediately to the south acquired from Samuel G. Clark and others in 1896 and the wedge across the highway acquired from Irving Clark in 1902.
The period in which Frank could redeem his interest in the property from the purchasers having passed without his acting to do so, Sheriff John F. Kelly on June 3, 1924 issued a deed to Artemas Ward for his parcel, containing 0.7 acre, located on the west side of South Ferry Road and just south of the intersection with Dickerson (now Midway) Road. On February 25, 1925, the Sheriff issued a deed to the Bank for property on Sachem’s Neck, including Cedar Island (about 235 acres), which Frank had acquired in 1908 from Herman de Selding. Finally, on April 21, 1925, the Sheriff issued a deed to the Bank for the eleven other parcels.
The Bank immediately deeded the Sachem’s Neck property to Earnest A. Bigalow of Oyster Bay, together with four parcels of 33, 15, 28 and 40 acres, respectively, located east of the highway and north of the Charles Chester property. Mr. Bigalow promptly deeded those properties to Avalon, Incorporated, apparently acting for Otto Kahn. The Suffolk Times reported on October 9, 1925 that Otto Kahn has purchased a large tract of land from the Avalon Corporation consisting of about 500 acres in Sachem’s Neck.
In September 1929 the Bank and Frank apparently resolved their differences, and the Bank deeded its interest in four parcels to Frank and he immediately deeded them to Norman P. Ellis, Evelyn’s older brother. These parcels consisted of the deer park and adjoining areas west of the highway and contained 37, 9, 10 and 68.5 acres, respectively. In addition, the Bank deeded to Norman its interest in three other parcels located east of the highway of 30 and 50 acres, and the 7.5 acre wedge located across the highway to the west. However, the 50 and 7.5 acre parcels were held by Evelyn directly under the 1912 deed. Norman promptly mortgaged the three parcels to the Mary R. Smith’s Trusts for $45,000.
In 1930 Norman deeded a 0.739 acre lot, in the northern portion of the wedge shaped parcel across the highway, to Genevieve F. Downs, daughter of Edward W. Downs and Frances M. Sherman. Edward Downs, who served as superintendent of the Smith properties beginning in 1909 died early that year. The deeding seemed not to have been done well because a second deed was issued later in 1930 and finally a third in 1934. Genevieve had an older sister, Myrtle, who was marred to Walter P. Treadway; after the death of Myrtle in 1934 Genevieve married Mr. Treadway.
Business back in the west was tough. Frank was now an old man. The stress began to take its toll. By 1928, he was not well. He began to suffer a series of little strokes that meant he had to relinquish control of West End Chemical. His manager John Sherman took over, aided by Evelyn and her younger brother, George C. Ellis. By 1930, Frank had lost the ability to speak. His mind remained clear, and he enjoyed short automobile rides around Oakland. On August 27, 1931, Francis Marion Smith, the Borax King, died at age 85. By 1932, Evelyn had taken over as president of the West End Chemical Company. She managed it for several years, but eventually turned it over to her brother, George.
The Arbor Villa estate had been dismantled during the 1920s, and the wrecking ball destroyed the house in 1932.
At Presdeleau the barn and lookout tower burned in 1930. Still in 1935, Norman rounded out the Smith property by purchasing the Culver triangle east of the highway; the Culvers had purchased the property in 1894, and their presence there had perhaps been a thorn in Frank’s side for years.
The house itself, however, became run down, and the hurricane of 1938 so badly damaged it that Evelyn decided to have it torn down.
In 1942 Norman lost the deer park property (west of the highway) for nonpayment of property taxes, and in 1946 the Treasurer of Suffolk County issued a deed to Frank P. Chiaramonte and Christ Bastis. Their interests were granted to Michael P. Chiaramonte in 1949 and he deeded the property that year to Ralph C. and Vivian Zehner. The Zehners established the Deer Park subdivisions in 1964 and 1978.
In 1944, Norman sold all of the Smith estate east of the highway. The eastern most section was sold to Kenneth W. Thompson and his wife Margaret Van Patten, a total of 8.23 acres. In 1980, Thompson sold it to Aeon Realty Company which immediately transferred it to the Gerard family. In 1999 the Gerard family sold it to the Nature Conservancy which, within a few months, sold the land to James D. and Mary H. Dougherty.
The bulk of the Smith property east of the highway was sold to Margaret Foltis who sold it in 1950 to Interstate Enterprises, Inc. which sold it the following year to Herbert A. Laage. He sold it to Mar-Kal Realty in 1956, which developed it as South Ferry Hills and, between 1958 and 1968 sold the land in 72 building lots.
Evelyn died in California on June 8, 1957.
Frank’s daughter Dorothy Smith Bayley built a house on one of the subdivided lots on Smith Cove and raised her children during the summers there. She died in October 2002. This property in 2003 belongs to Alexander and Nancy Alex.
To learn more about Francis Marion Smith and his career as the Borax King, turn to Borax Pioneer: Francis Marion Smith, by George H. Hildebrand, 1982. The book is out of print, but both the Shelter Island Historical Society and the Public Library have copies.
Other sources for this article are:
Gertrude Tuthill Robinson’s 1962 Recollections, Shelter Island Historical Society
The Suffolk Times
Suffolk County Center, Riverhead, Deeds
Suffolk County Surrogate, File No. 19651, Will of Mary Smith
Shelter Island Cemeteries by Alan J. Krauss 2000
The Japanese Bridge, built of concrete, designed by Ernest Ramsone in the late 19th or early 20th Century, in 2003. It can be viewed from a public path south of 22 Merkle Lane.