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Biography of William Gardner Smyser

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William Gardner Smyser, now living retired at Topeka, is one of the interesting citizens of the capital city both on account of his individual experiences and his long service as a railroad and constructing engineer, and also because of his family lineage. Ho is connected by family ties with a number of notable Americans.

The Smysors came out of Germany and settled in Pennsylvania early in the eighteenth century. The cause of their coming to America was participation in some revolutionary movement in Germany. The original name of the family was Bowemund. The Bowemunds and others had some part in a local rebellion, and as they failed to accomplish their purpose they had to flee the country, and all of them changed their names. The Bowemund immigrant changed his name to Schmeisser, a word meaning in German a person who delivers a blow or a striker. The name had since been changed to its present form.

William G. Smyser’s grandfather was George Smyser, who was born in York County, Pennsylvania, and spent his life in that state, largely as a banker. For a number of years he served as an associate judge. He died at Gettysburg. He had served loyally with the American army in the War of 1812. The maiden name of his wife was Catherine Gardner, who was a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania.

Daniel M. Smyser, father of William G., was born near Gettysburg in 1809. His only sister, Margaret, married George Swope, a prominent banker in Southern Pennsylvania. Their only son, Dr. John A. Swope, represented his district in Congress for many years. He died in Washington, D. C., and was vice president of the Washington Loan and Trust Company.

Daniel M. Smyser grew up in his native place, graduated from Dickinson College at Carlisle with the degree of A. B., read law, and was admitted to the bar. He became noted as a Pennsylvania lawyer, and his attainments brought him into close association with other notable men of his time. He was once a law partner of the famous Pennsylvanian and national character, Thad Stevens. He practiced for a number of years in Gettysburg, served in the State Legislature for a number of terms, and finally was elected presiding judge of the seventh judicial district. While in that office he moved his family to Norristown, Pennsylvania, and that was his home the rest of his life, though he died while visiting Gettysburg in 1873. He was an active whig during the existence of that party and was subsequently a republican. At one time he was offered the position of attorney general of Pennsylvania, but declined. In 1854 he was the whig candidate for chief justice of the Supreme Court, but on account of the eruption of the know-nothing party the entire whig ticket was defeated in Pennsylvania except the candidate for governor. Judge Smyser was beaten in that campaign by Jerry Black, another eminent Pennsylvanian. Judge Smyser belonged to the Episcopal Church. He married Catherine Barbara Miller, who was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1814, and died at Gettysburg in 1890. She had three sisters and one brother. The brother, Andrew Galbraith Miller, while practicing law in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was appointed United States district judge for the then territory of Wisconsin. When that territory became a state he was recommissioned and served until he was seventy-three years of age, when he retired from the bench. He was succeeded by his son-in-law, James Graham Jenkins. Judge Jenkins was later promoted to the circuit bench. One sister of Mrs. Smyser married James Cooper, a distinguished lawyer of Pennsylvania. Mr. Cooper served many times in the State Legislature, was attorney general, served one term in the United States Senate, and died in 1863 at Columbus, Ohio, as a brigadier general in the United States army during the Civil war. Their only daughter, Annic, was married to Dr. Charles Page, assistant surgeon general, U. S. A. Another sister of Mrs. Smyser married Godlove S. Orth, of Lafayette, Indiana. Mr. Orth was a lawyer and for many years represented his district in Congress. During President Grant’s administration Mr. Orth was United States minister to Austria. The other sister lived and died unmarried.

The children of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel M. Smyser all had some special distinction by position or attainment. Their oldest, Catherine Jane, became the wife of Judge David Wills, of Gettysburg, both now deceased, Eugene was a successful physician and surgeon and died in Long Island. The third in the family is William G. Smyser. John, the youngest, who died at Florencs, South Carolina, in 1916, was at that time a retired officer of the United States Marine Corps. He had been retired from active duty on account of eye trouble contracted while on the South Pacific Station.

John Harris, the founder of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was the great-great-great-grandfather of William Gardner Smyser, and John Bannister Gibson, for many years chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, a jurist of the highest national reputation, was his great-uncle.

William Gardner Smyser was born in the historic city of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, June 28, 1845. He attended the public schools of Norristown, Pennsylvania, also the Tremont Seminary, and entering the Polyteehnic College of Philadelphia was graduated in 1865 in the civil engineering course. During the Oivil war as a boy he had trained with the military company in the Polytechnic College, but was never called into service.

As a civil engineer Mr. Smyser worked in Pennsylvania one year, and during 1867-68 was connected with the surveying corps which laid out the route for the old Kansas Pacific Railroad across the continent to California. Subsequently he was for a time connected with the engineering department of the road known as the European & North American Railroad from Bangor, Maine, to St. Johns, New Brunswick, Canada. Returning to Kansas in 1869, Mr. Smyser was engaged in the building of the line between Leavenworth and Atchison, now a part of the main line of the Missouri Pacific. Later he put in three years constructing the bridge across the Missouri River at Leavenworth. Gen. W. W. Wright was the engineer-in-chief, and Mr. Smyser was his chief assistant and in direct charge of the work. For two years he was with the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway, and then went East for a year and was with the Pittsburg & Lake Erie Railroad.

Mr. Smyser is a veteran of the Santa Fe Company, having connected himself with that corporation in 1879, when nearly all of its lines of railway were within the states of Kansas and Colorado. He continned actively for nearly thirty years, when he retired in 1908. Mr. Smyser had lived at Topeka since October, 1881. He owned one of the comfortable homes of the city, situated in a very choice location on Eighth Avenne, opposite Bethany College Park.

He also had an interest in a farm near Kansas City. Mr. Smyser is a republican and an active member of the Episcopal Church. He was a vestryman of Grace Cathedral and had been for many years one of the trustees of Christ Hospital in Topeka.

He married at New Oxford, Pennsylvania, in 1878, Miss Louise M. Gitt, daughter of Joseph and Margaret (Baughman) Gitt, both now deceased. Her father was a civil engineer and was engaged in building the European & North American Railroad, and Mr. Smyser served under him in a subordinate capacity for one year.


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