Paul Smith, undated. "Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 22, 1987 Paul Smith, D.W. Riddle, Dr. Sam Ward, undated. Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 25, 1987 Paul Smith, undated. "Alfred Lee Donaldson, A history of the Adirondacks, 1921 Paul Smith's Hotel, circa 1892
Born: August 20, 1825, in Milton, Vermont
Died: December 15, 1912 in Montreal, Canada
Married: Lydia Martin
Apollos Austin ("Paul") Smith (1825–1912) founded the Saint Regis House in the town of Brighton, known universally as Paul Smith's Hotel, one of the first wilderness resorts in Adirondacks. In its day it was the most fashionable of the many great Adirondack hotels, patronized by American presidents, celebrities, and the power elite of the latter half of the 19th century.
Smith was born August 20, 1825, in Milton, Vermont. When he was 16, he left home and found work as a boatman on a canal boat on Lake Champlain; in his spare time, he went hunting and fishing in the Adirondacks, which at that time was largely wilderness. In time he became known as a hunting and fishing guide in the Loon Lake region in Warren County.
In 1848 he rented a house on Loon Lake that he ran as a small hotel, aided by his mother and father. In 1852, Smith bought 200 acres near Loon Lake on the North Branch of the Saranac River for $300. Here he built "Hunter's Home", a primitive hotel with one large living room and kitchen and ten small sleeping quarters; the bar was self-service—a barrel of whiskey in a corner of the living room. It was popular from the start with the doctors, lawyers and other professional men from eastern cities with whom Smith had developed a relationship.
In 1858, some of Smith's guests suggested that he build a more comfortable hotel, one to which they could bring their wives, on Lower Saint Regis Lake, 12 miles southwest of Loon Lake; one of them even offered to advance Smith the money to build it. Smith bought 50 acres for three hundred dollars and built a hotel with seventeen bedrooms and furnishings that, while simple, were luxurious compared to others in the area.
Paul Smith's Electric Light and Power and Railroad Company building in Saranac Lake, which now serves as the village offices
It opened in the summer of 1859. Smith was an excellent host, a charming story teller with a quick wit, and he was known for treating everyone the same. He was also a shrewd businessman, and his wife, Lydia, who he had married the same year, was good at managing the details of the operation.
Smith's real estate transactions were legendary—in one transaction, he bought 13000 acres for twenty thousand dollars, and then sold 5 acres of it for the same price. At one point he owned 30,000 acres. When he sold land, it was generally to his wealthy clientele, many of whom built Great Camps on the nearby lakes, using lumber from Smith's mill.
The hotel expanded steadily to 255 guest rooms, with a bowling alley, a large casino, several dormitories for guides and other help, and a stable for 60 horses. At the same time, Smith was involved in lumbering operations, developing a sawmill, and stores and shops. He created the area's first electric company, with hydroelectric plants on the St. Regis River at Keese Mill, and on the Saranac River at Franklin Falls and in Saranac Lake. He built roads, and developed electric boats, recharged at his electric plant, to deliver passengers to their camps on Spitfire and Upper Saint Regis Lakes. He installed telegraph lines, a stock ticker wired directly to the New York Stock Exchange, and finally, a telephone system.
In 1906, Smith built an electric railroad line seven miles south to Lake Clear, to connect with the Mohawk and Malone Railway.
Guests of the hotel included US Presidents Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, as well as luminaries such as P.T. Barnum, E. H. Harriman, Whitelaw Reid, J. P. Morgan and Anson Phelps Stokes.
Paul Smith died on December 15, 1912, at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, after two consecutive kidney operations; he was 87. He had three sons— Henry, who died at age 29, Paul Jr., who died in 1920, and Phelps Smith, who continued managing the hotel until it burned down in 1930. When Phelps Smith died, his will provided funds to start Paul Smith's College, which was built on the site of the hotel. The first class was matriculated in 1946. 1
New York Times, October 27, 1912
PAUL SMITH, WHO HELPED TO
MAKE THE ADIRONDACKS FAMOUS
Career of the Guide and Hotelkeeper, Now 87, and SeriouslyIll—His Shrewdness in Real Estate Deals — Says His Wife Made Him Successful.
THERE may possibly be more than one man in the United States who has his full name in the Post Office Directory, but there is only one Paul Smith. He celebrated his eighty-seventh birthday on the 20th day of August. 1912. He celebrated it among a host of friends and amid a shower of congratulations, and presents at Paul Smith's on St. Regis Lake in the Adirondacks. Now he is so ill that thousands of his friends have become alarmed about him.
On the day before his eighty-seventh birthday Paul Smith sat down with a friend not far from the spot on which he made up his mind to build a house in the Adirondacks more than sixty years before, and gave the details of his career which are here set forth. He was born in the little town of Milton, Vt., in 1825. His father was a lumberman, who lived to be 73, and his mother died at the age of 95. Paul was a born hunter, and he used to trap muskrat and hunt game around his native place when he was in his teens. In 1852 he decided to settle in the Adirondacks. Then it was that he acted as guide and companion for Nat Tucker of Burlington, Vt., who was a renowned hunter, and in the Spring and Summer of that year they spent five weeks at Loon Lake.
Paul Smith returned alone in October of that year and laid the foundations for the Hunters' Home, which he established and maintained near the lake for some. The Hunters' Home was a simple wooden structure, which had one fair-sized room and about eight or ten compartments into which men could retire to sleep. There were no accommodations for women. The guests wore their rough clothes and paid $1.25 a day for board and lodging and $2 a day for a guide. In those days the bill of fare consisted of venison, lake trout, partridges, ham, bread, and vegetables, with tea or coffee. There was no law against the killing of deer or partridges or the catching of trout in any season, and Paul Smith himself killed as high as sixty deer in one year.
In those days the only beverage which guests were accustomed to was rye whisky and water. Whisky was then 19 cents a gallon, and Paul Smith kept a barrel of rye in the living room and a string attached to the barrel and a dipper upon the end of the string. When one of the guests wanted a drink all he had to do was to take from his pocket four coppers (nickels were hardly known at that time) and place them on the top of the barrel, put the dipper under the spigot and help himself. The head of the barrel was usually well covered with coppers.
The boarders of the time were for the most part professional men, lawyers, and doctors of New York, Boston, and other Eastern cities. The Hunters' Home stood on a plot of 200 acres on the north branch of the Saranac River, one mile from Loon Lake, and this land cost Paul Smith $1.50 an acre. He established his mother and father in the Hunters' Home, when a few years later he moved to the St. Regis Lakes, and they lived and died there.
It was in September, 1858, on a Sunday afternoon that Paul Smith, in company with one of his long-standing guests, Daniel Sanders, a well-known Massachusetts lawyer, sat down to partake of a little lunch on-the high bank overlooking the lower St. Regis Lake, where there was no house, and began the conversation which led to Paul Smith's permanent removal to that place in the year 1859. Daniel Sanders had hunted the woods of Maine and was greatly impressed with their superiority over the Adirondack region, but on this day Paul Smith had taken him upon a long journey from Mud Pond on the Saranac through the St. Regis Lakes and had satisfied him that the woods and waters were full of game. Sanders said:
"Paul, this is a beautiful spot. You ought to have a house right here."
To this suggestion Paul replied that at that time he was not a capitalist.
However, when he got buck to Hunters' Home he related the experiences of the day to the guests, among whom was Dr. Hezekiah B. Loomis of New York City. He had been a visitor at Hunters' Home for several years, and was a great friend of Paul Smith. He told Paul to go to the St. Regis Lakes and get what land he could and to call on him for the money to build such a house as he thought was necessary to accommodate a limited number of guests, including women. Dr. Loomis wanted to have a place where he could go in company with his wife.
Paul bought fifty acres of land for $6 an acre, which took all the ready money he had. He then borrowed from Dr. Loomis $13,000, for which he gave a mortgage, and erected a house of seventeen rooms, including a large living room. Among the early boarders at Loon Lake and St. Regis Lake were Peter Butler of Boston, Horace Green of New York City, and other men of their calibre. The house was not finished until the year 1859, when Paul Smith finally took possession at the place which now bears his name and began the operations as a landlord and property developer which have made his name famous all over the world.
From that time and until 1870 there was no Post Office at Paul Smith's, and none nearer than Bloomingdale, nine miles away. It was customary to send for the mail once a week, and this was sometimes difficult, because the road was little more than a trail. The guests flocked to the new place in increasing numbers on account of the fine air, the good fishing, the deer and partridge hunting, and the excellent living which could be had at moderate expense. Butter was 12 cents a pound, everything else correspondingly cheap. When the war came on Paul Smith's was full of people who had hired substitutes to go to the front, and by the end of the struggle he had paid off the mortgage on his place and was $50,000 to the good.
After the war Mr. Smith began to buy tracts of land and got a considerable acreage from Kees & Thomas, [sic] lumber merchants of Keesville, N. Y., for $1.50 an acre. Afterward he had to pay considerably more, but first and last he acquired more than 30,000 acres of land, including ten lakes, the waters and shores of which he owned absolutely.
One of Mr. Smith's real estate transactions will show some of the strong points of his character. The Mutual Life Insurance Company had foreclosed a mortgage on a large tract of lumber land near the property which Mr. Smith owned. It was merely forest land, from which lumbermen had got the spruce and pines and left the hemlock, birch, maple, and black cherry trees. It was not supposed to be very valuable. In fact, an offer was made by Col. Stone, representing the Mutual Life Insurance Company, to sell 13,000 acres of this land to Paul Smith for $20,000.
Mr. Smith knew that Smith M. Weed of Plattsburg, N. Y., was after the property and he thought it must be worth something. He, therefore, quietly slipped down to New York against the protests of his sons, and went to Col. Stone's office in the Mutual Life Insurance Building one morning before any one was there, except the scrubwomen and an office boy. He waited until Col. Stone had come in and then told him that he had made up his-mind to buy the land if he could pay $1,000 cash, $9,000 in sixty days, on taking possession, and give a mortgage for the rest of the purchase money. This the lawyer for the company assented to, and dictated a memorandum to be signed to that effect. While the typewriter was getting the contract in shape a telegram came in from Mr. Weed, who wanted to know what the best price was that would buy the land.
Paul Smith said that for a moment his heart went into his boots, but he secretly resolved that he would have that contract signed or he and Col. Stone would come to blows. There was no hesitation on the part of the company and the contract was executed and delivered to the happy buyer. He returned home and within a few days Mr. Weed came down from Plattsburg and said:
"Paul, I hear you have bought that land. Will you take $5,000 for your day's work in New York?"
"No." said Mr. Smith.
"Will $10,000 satisfy you, then?" asked Mr. Weed.
"No. I want the land." was the answer. Thereupon the sons said their father was a lucky man, but it looks like the story of the early bird. Within a very short time after Paul Smith took title to this property he sold five acres of it to the Garrett family of Baltimore for $20,000 and much of the rest of it became of equal value. Among the persons in addition to the Garretts who have camps on land either rented or purchased from Paul Smith are Anson Phelps Stokes, Frederick W. Vanderbilt, Whitelaw Reid, and William M. McAlpin.
Paul Smith and his sons, Paul. Jr., and Phelps Smith, own and control the Paul Smith Hotel Company. They own and operate their own water power at Franklin Falls, nine miles away, which supplies the electricity for the hotels and cottages, and also for the railway which Paul Smith built on his own land over a distance of six miles to connect with the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Company, at an expense of $75,000.
While he has gathered most of the fish that have come to his net, he let at least one large one escape. There was a famous lumberman of the name of Pat Ducey who operated in the Adirondacks, and when he got all the money he wanted out of it, with 40,000 acres of land on hand, he went to Paul Smith and offered to sell it to Mr. Smith for $60,000. He said:
"Paul, you can make your own terms. I do not need the money. Just give me your note with interest, and you can have the property."
At that time Mr. Smith was land poor, or thought he was, and so he declined the proposition. Shortly afterward Pat Ducey gave William Rockefeller an option on this land for $60,000, but it expired, and it seemed that Mr. Rockefeller did not want the property. Thereupon Pat Ducey went back to Mr. Smith and said:
"Paul, Mr. Rockefeller has refused to take that land, but has offered me a certified check for $50,000 for it, and I do not want the money. I want you to have the land, and you can take it on your own terms."
But again Mr. Smith thought over the matter and decided to advise Pat Ducey to take the certified check for $50,000, which he evidently did. That is the way Mr. William Rockefeller bought his 40,000 acres of land in the Adirondacks for $50.000.
"My," said Paul Smith, "what a mistake that was for me."
The property is now worth millions.
"To what do you owe your long life and the measure of success which has come to you? Is it to the fact that you have been much out of doors, to abstinence, moderate living, or what?" Mr. Smith was asked.
"To my wife," he said as quick as he could get the words out of his mouth. It was at a dance near Loon Lake in the days of the old Hunters' Home when Paul Smith met Lydia Helen Martin, of good family, who had been educated in Miss Willard's Seminary in Troy, New York. In those days the waltz was a rare thing in the country, but it had happened that Paul Smith and Miss Martin were both good dancers, and they did a waltz for the amusement and delight of the guests who were assembled. From that time until the day of their marriage, Sept. 5, 1859, they were inseparable companions at all the parties in the neighborhood, and after their marriage they made their home in the new building on St. Regis Lake, where they were blessed with three children, all sons, the eldest of whom died at the age of 29, and the others being closely identified with the hotel and transportation business as above mentioned. Mrs. Smith herself died in the year 1891, and after that time Paul Smith felt that he had lost his greatest support in life.
His wife was an excellent business woman. She used to keep the accounts and write the contracts which her husband executed, and more than one lawyer had occasion to pay high tribute to her capacity as a framer of ironclad contracts in her husband's behalf. She was one of eleven children, but the only one who could be induced to take a full course in school. One of her oldest sisters married before she and Mr. Smith wedded, and as her husband was a man known to be worth $40,000, it was the talk of the country for miles around. Unhappily, within a few years after this marriage the $40,000 disappeared in wasteful living and the poor sister and her children were brought to Paul Smith's, where they were made comfortable and cared for a long while.
After the influence of his wife's character Paul Smith attributed his health, success, and happiness, as he put it, to the simple fact that he had good common sense. He included in this phrase the capacity a man must have to regulate his appetite for food and drink, to know when to go to bed and when to get up, (to him at 87 this means to bed at 7 P. M. and up at 6 A. M.) to know a good bargain after carefully ascertaining the facts and how to go after it and get it; how to hold on to what you have and how to be square with all sorts of people on all sorts of matters. He said that for debt and people volunteered to lend him money and to help him in his enterprises, but that he was never sued for a debt, and that he never failed to keep his obligations to any man.
Mr. Smith had been accustomed to smoke and drink all his life until he reached the age of 85.
He was never Intoxicated in his life. He has traveled all over the United States, Canada, and some parts of Mexico, but has never been abroad. He has spent a part of several Winters in Florida and greatly admires that country. He feels, however, that Canada now offers the greatest opportunities to capital, and labor of any country in the world.
Plattsburgh Sentinel, April 11, 1902.
INTERVIEW WITH PAUL SMITH
California Papers on Well Known Adirondack Hotel Man
Captain Paul Smith, about whom more stories of adventure, hunting, fishing and, possibly, poker playing, center, than any other easterner, is touring Southern California. Captain Paul, or "Uncle Paul," who won fame years ago as the most daring of the hardy guides who penetrated into the fastnesses of the forest-clad mountains of the great Adirondack region of northern New York, and turned his fame into good hard cash and lands galore by establishing the largest hotel in all the great St. Regis and Saranac region, is having the time of his life visiting the great hotels of the Pacific coast and shaking hands with his wandering children. Of the thousands of wealthy tourists who are now in Southern California, certainly 75 per cent have at one time or another been the guests of Captain Smith's "Paul Smith's House," away up in the glades of the far north. These have come to know and love "Uncle Paul" with almost the affection that children have for a kind and indulgent father. It good for the heart to watch the old man as he went about today in the corridors of the big hotels of this city and Pasadena. There was a buzz at his coming, and the word sped about, "There's 'Uncle Paul'—our old Paul Smith of the Adirondacks."
Stately millionaires, grave men of affairs, beautiful girls and dowagers whose fingers were fairly stiff with jeweled rings, surrounded, the kindly-faced old guide and wrung his hands and recalled memories of this one and that one of days spent on the shores of the shimmering St. Regis.
So it went all day, until Captain Smith after dining at Hotel Green at Pasadena, took a long drive with, some friends, viewing the grim front of the Sierra Madras and the orange groves of the San Gabriel valley, both, marvelous contrasts to his home in the northern forest.
HIS LIFE AND MANNER
In spite of the rugged life of his early youth and the fact that most of his days have been spent far from the throng, Captain Smith has the dress, manners and polish of a gentleman well acquainted with the ways of the world. There is, however, in his deep, strong voice, the sincere ring of the man who has lived close to nature, and perhaps that is the secret of why so many people love him so well and flocked about him so eager for a handshake.
Captain Smith came out of the woods about six weeks ago, and joining a Raymond-Whitcomb excursion in New York, toured it down through the Southern States and then through' Old Mexico, reaching Los Angeles recently at a point in the itinerary which leads up the coast and thence back to New York by way of San Francisco.
Captain Smith went into the Adirondacks when a boy. It was in the 40's and the great domain in the northeast corner of New York was a trackless forest, without designation on the map beyond the vague description of "great north woods." A few adventurous sportsmen and lumber prospectors began to penetrate the fastnesses, and young Smith found employment in guiding them over the old Indian trails and paddling them along the gleaming waters of the unknown lakes. About 1850 he built a log cabin and began keeping hotel in the wilderness.
"That was a pretty small hotel," he said, as he mused over his humble beginning, "but my folks have always stuck to me, and they have kept coming up and coming up, until now I can take pretty nice care of them, if we do live up in the woods."
Captain Smith is rather modest in speaking of the great wealth and marvelous prosperity which has followed his unique venture in hotel-keeping. The fact is that "Paul Smith's house" now accommodates about five hundred guests and is surrounded by a small city of cottages which he has built to accommodate the people who cannot be provided for in the house, but who are nevertheless permitted to eat at his big table. In addition to this he has a railway Station, a stage line, steamboats and an army of guides, and is in his genial, happy way, something of a monarch in the domain of 31,000 acres of land which he now owns in the Adirondacks.
The Sloanes, the Vanderbilts, the Webbs, the Rockefellers, the Huntingtons and no end of millionaires have been his guests at one time or another and many of them have bought and built upon great forest estates in his vicinity.
ROOSEVELT AS A BOY.
"Was it at your place that President Roosevelt was making his Adirondack home when he was called to Buffalo to assume the presidency of the United States upon President McKinley's death last summer?" he was asked.
"No, that was a little farther north than my place, but the president and his father, who, I can tell you was just as fine a gentleman as the boy, used to come to my place summer after summer. I can remember the president ever since he was a little bit of a fellow, when his father used to bring him up to the woods. He was just as nice a boy as he is a president, but tell you that boy knew a gun—yes sir, he did know a gun."
Paul and Lydia Smith's gravestone at nearby St. John's in the Wilderness Episcopal Church. He donated the land on which the church stands.
Collins, Geraldine. The Biography and Funny Sayings of Paul Smith, Paul Smiths College, Paul Smiths, NY. 1965.
Donaldson, Alfred L. A History of the Adirondacks, The Century Co., New York. 1921.