Press-Republican

May 12, 2013

A mother's love isn't always easy

BY SUSAN TOBIAS
Press-Republican

---- — PAUL SMITHS — Every language on Earth has a word for “mother.” An Internet search turns up more than 120 different translations. 

The Dutch call her “moeder”; the Hawaiian, “makuahine”; Japanese, “okaasan” or “haha”; and the Bulgarian matriarch is called “majke.”

Around the world, Mother’s Day is observed in different months, but all consider the day a time to stop and appreciate how special a mother’s love is toward her children. Mother’s love isn’t always easy, though, as some have lived through much tragedy relating to their children. 

While the North Country has many women who will be celebrated today, one special woman was the backbone of an Adirondack town, famous and successful businessman, and family. 

The Adirondack hamlet of Paul Smiths is named after the businessman, guide and all-around adventurous soul Apollos Austin “Paul” Smith. He was born in Milton, Vt., on Aug. 20, 1825. 

He didn’t get to the top alone, however. He was married to a young woman by the name of Lydia Martin, who was born in AuSable Forks on Aug. 29, 1834, one of 11 children. Her parents were Hugh and Sarah (Goodell) Martin.

According to information from Historic Saranac Lake, Lydia met Paul after her parents moved to the Adirondack town of Franklin Falls to manage the Franklin House. She had already graduated from Willard Seminar in Troy and was a young woman of social graces.

Meanwhile, Paul, who had moved west from Milton, Vt., was in Loon Lake and built a small hotel called the Hunters’ Home. Lydia went to a dance at Loon Lake, and the rest, as they say, is history. It is told Paul was captured by Lydia and wouldn’t let anyone else dance with her that night.

Paul received backing from some wealthy hotel guests and moved to Lower St. Regis Lake to construct a new hotel. He spent his summers visiting Lydia and her family at Franklin Falls, walking 18 miles one way. When winter came, he made the trip on snowshoes.

Paul’s hotel was doing very well, and when he was 34, he asked Lydia to marry him. The ceremony took place in the Franklin House on Sept. 5, 1859. They lived at Paul’s new hotel.

It is said Lydia proved to be one of Paul’s greatest assets, an excellent cook, prudent housekeeper and, with her good education, she became an efficient administrator. Paul was popular as a “man’s man,” hunting and fishing alongside his guests, storytelling and was of good humor. They complemented each other so well that the original 17-room structure grew to a successful 300-room complex and gained recognition worldwide.

On March 4, 1861, Lydia gave birth to their first son and named him Henry B. Loomis Smith, in honor of Paul’s good friend who had loaned him the money to get started. On June 4, 1862, a second son, Phelps Smith, was born, named in honor of Paul’s father. Then on Aug. 3, 1871, their last child, Paul Smith Jr., was born.

The sons grew to be fine young men and eventually were able to help with the hotel business. Paul and Lydia traveled, mostly off-season, to enjoy a little quiet time. Henry was sick with a bad cold when they left on one such trip. They stopped at the Murray Hill Hotel in New York City where Lydia wrote Henry a letter expressing a mother’s concern, simply stating, “I hope your cold is better.”

Little did Lydia know that Henry was not getting better. The cold developed into pneumonia, a deadly illness in 1890, and Henry died at the age of 29 on Jan. 3, 1891.

The trip back to the Adirondacks must have been one of terrible sadness. Lydia made it through funeral arrangements and meeting compassionate friends, but only a mother who has lost a child can imagine her grief.

She, somehow, carried on with daily living. The couple traveled again. However, letters written by Lydia, found at the Franklin County Historical and Museum Society House of History in Malone, reveal her personal feelings:

“1/23/91 My very dear boys — Phelps telegram came today when I was alone in my room and I had to have a time of feeling badly before I could open it, thinking of those other sad ones that brought your father and I such deep sorrow.

I do hope God will keep and bless you both. Mrs. Millard and I have been out all day getting my two dresses. I had nothing else to buy. I think we shall leave here Monday. I could not get my dresses till then or at least till Saturday so we must stay till then.

Your father has been to see Mr. Bianchi and I enclose his check. Mr. Lambert called to see your father today and this evening they are calling on Mr. Bell. He thinks if we can’t have (train) passes we can have half rate tickets which would save us quite a little.

The weather is lovely. It is clear and quite warm. I am very well indeed. Have a good appetite and cough little. I know you will feel so glad of this and if it was not for that dear grave up by the little church I would be happy over it but my heart is full of grief for my boy who is gone. Don’t forget him boys. Think of him often and there is one little thing I would like to speak to you about and that is Henry’s letters you found in his trunk.

Don’t never, no matter how intimate the friend, repeat one word as they are the secrets of the dead and had he lived or had I been with him when he died, you would never have seen them but I know you will consider them sacred and respect your brothers secrets but I could not refrain from cautioning you both. Forgive me if you think it was unnecessary.

I hope Grandma keeps well and all the family. I am glad Jack is with you. I wish you both could have a few days off. After the trying sorrowful things you have passed through and did so well, both of you. I wish you could have some rest and you really need it too. Don’t neglect your colds.

Good bye, my dear children, with lots of love, I am your affectionate Mother. The Grand Union Hotel, Friday 23rd Jan.”

The letters continue through the spring and into the early fall, with the same general news, unable to escape sharing her sadness with her precious sons. It is said Lydia was never able to get over Henry’s death, and she mourned until her own death on Nov. 5, 1891.

Reports have it that Lydia’s death “dealt a great blow” to Paul and her two sons. Again the sons tried to pick up the pieces but, this time, their father’s grief was more than they could take away from him.

He persevered, always the businessman, and went on to establish an electric company, a telephone company, an electric railroad, and served as postmaster and supervisor of the Town of Brighton. 

Historic Saranac Lake’s website states:

“During all these achievements he never ceased to give due credit to Lydia and frequently claimed that she was responsible for his meteoric success. On his 85th birthday, Paul was feted at a surprise party arranged by his host of acquaintances. As he stood to face the gathering he could only say, ‘I wish that Lydia could be here to see this.’”

Paul died on Dec. 15, 1912, in Montreal, Quebec, after two consecutive kidney operations. His namesake, Paul Jr., died in 1920.

Phelps was the last of the original Paul Smith family. He died on Jan. 17, 1937, and left instructions in his will for the creation of Paul Smith’s College. The family is buried in the non-denominational St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery in the town that Apollos Austin “Paul” Smith founded. 

+++++

LYDIA MARTIN'S OBITUARY

Mrs. A.A. Smith, whose serious illness was reported in these columns died on Thursday of last week at her home in Brighton …

Mrs. Smith was a sister of Charles E. and D. Martin and was reared in Brighton when that town was little more than a wilderness.

As the wife of Apollos A. Smith her life has been a busy one and much of the success which has come to be regarded as inseparable from the name of "Paul Smith" is due to her ability and tireless industry.

She was ever her husband's best counselor in his growing business in the Adirondacks and numbered among her friends thousands who yearly visit the great hotel over which she presided.

-- Franklin Gazette, November 1891