Biography of Scott A. Smith

A native and lifelong resident of Rhode Island, the late Scott A. Smith was for many years prominently active in various well known and important industrial enterprises in Providence and elsewhere. However, the last twenty years of his life he spent in retirement, giving much of his time during this period to study, the collecting of paintings, and research work in mechanical and electrical engineering. He was also very prominently active throughout his entire life in religious work. These various activities were typical of Mr. Smith’s fine intellect, the breadth of his interests, and his public spirit. Throughout the greater part of his life a resident of Providence, he was always regarded one of this city’s most representative and most substantial citizens.

Scott A. Smith was born at North Scituate, December 4, 1833, a son of Scott Smith. His father was for many years a prominent coal dealer of Providence. Mr. Smith was educated in the public grammar and high schools of Providence and early in life became associated with the late George H. Corliss, manufacturer of the well-known Corliss engines. This association continued for many years, and for fourteen years Mr. Smith was treasurer of the Corliss Engine Works. He also founded the Providence Oil Works, of which he was president for thirty-three years, and the Cresson & Smith Shafting Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He retired from active business in 1903. Throughout his life he was very much interested in the arts and sciences and in architecture. He made a hobby of collecting paintings and gradually accumulated a very fine art collection of Rhode Island artists. He was a frequent contributor of scientific articles to the Providence “Journal,” was noted as a keen art critic and took a friendly interest in the careers of many artists. Maintaining a summer home on Mount Monadnock, New Hampshire, he devoted himself for a number of years to the laying out of over twelve miles of footpaths and trails over this famous mountain. These were mapped during 1894-1907, and large numbers of maps were published and sold. Mr. Smith himself was an enthusiastic mountain climber and, with characteristic kindliness, he took great delight in making accessible to others the charms of the New Hampshire mountains, which he himself loved so well. He was an honorary member of the Providence Art Club, the Churchman’s Club and the Franklin Society, of which he served as president at one time, and was a governing member for life of the Rhode Island School of Design and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. His religious affiliations were with the Protestant Episcopal Church, and more particularly with the Church of the Epiphany, which he helped to found in 1876, and of which he was a vestryman, junior warden, auditor and treasurer, being active in its affairs for almost half a century. During the latter part of his life he was especially active in connection with this church’s music.

Mr. Smith married (first) Adelaide Baker Cooke, a daughter of the late Joseph J. Cooke. Mrs. Smith’s father was a native of Rhode Island and for a number of years was very successfully engaged in the California emigration business as the head of the New York firm of Joseph J. Cooke & Company. He amassed a considerable fortune and eventually returned to Rhode Island and settled in Providence. There he bought and developed a large real estate property in the Elmwood section, becoming known as the “Father of Elmwood.” He served as one of the first water commissioners of Providence and for many years was president of the commission. He owned a large and valuable collection of rare books, many of them being de luxe editions, and at his death he left his books to the several Providence libraries, willing them also funds for their endowments. Mr. Smith married (second) Theodora, a daughter of Hon. Walter S. Burges, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. By his first marriage Mr. Smith was the father of four children: George and Mary who died in early life; Joseph Cooke Smith, now a resident of Switzerland; and Adelaide M. Smith, who died in 1906.

At his home in Providence, Scott A. Smith died August 2, 1924, in his ninety-first year. His death, of course, was the natural conclusion of a long and busy life. Nevertheless it came as a distinct shock to the community, of which he had been one of the most prominent members for so many years, and it was felt generally as a great loss to his native State. A man of sterling character, a great reader, a deep thinker, a student of and writer on philosophy, art and engineering and a well-known and impressive orator and lecturer, Mr. Smith, during a very long period, had interested himself enthusiastically and helpfully in many phases of the community’s life. In a quiet and unostentatious manner he constantly helped to advance the progress and welfare of his home city, its people and its institutions, and all these were the better for having come into contact with him.

Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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