Mystery Place: Settler details difficulties of 1800s living

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Ginny Hall | March 18, 2016

The reference area at the Lake Geneva Public Library has an interesting booklet on the life of Truman M. Smith during his years in Walworth County. The information covering the years 1846 through 1851 was compiled by Barry and Joan Miller Cotter. Joan is Smith's great-great-granddaughter.

Smith came here from Danby Four Corners, Vermont, in 1846. He and his wife stopped in Waukesha County before venturing to the town of Geneva, where they decided to buy 83 acres from John Newton in Section 3.

The booklet transcribes several letters that Smith sent home to his father in Vermont. They describe the difficulties he had with illness, crop failure and weather and the need for money to meet his mortgage payments. 

In 1848 he decided to move into the village of Geneva. The booklet indicates that they owned two different lots. One was at the southeast corner of Dodge and Warren streets. The other was one lot west of the southwest corner of Dodge and Maxwell streets.

The picture that is included in this column is from the Dodge and Warren corner. I am quite sure this is not the house in which Truman lived.

Here he operated a variety store. The booklet shows ads for books, tea, candy, figs, curtains and cigars. At one point his brother, Arthur, came to stay with him and help at the store. 

Arthur was sickly and apparently accumulated lots of doctor bills before he died. This added to Truman's financial worries.  Arthur died in Geneva. The authors indicate that they were unable to find his tombstone.

Truman partnered with Ambrose Tripp for several months as owners of the store. Truman and Lydia, his wife, also had several illnesses, which added to their difficulties. Finally, the two moved to St. Paul. 

The end of the booklet has an interesting compilation of prices of a great variety of things in the area in 1846 and 1847. These prices were gained from the letters Truman sent to his father.

If you are interested in more details, stop at the Lake Geneva Public Library. The booklet can be read in the library.

Ginny Hall, a Delavan historian, is author of the “Walking around ...” and “Meandering ... ” books, which highlight the history of Walworth County communities.


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