Biography of Walter Ashton Smith
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Walter Ashton Smith. Among the able and successful business men of Topeka, Walter Ashton Smith occupies a foremost place, for years being financially and officially connected with large enterprises in Shawnee and Decatur counties. As the vice president and treasurer of the Farm Mortgage Company, Mr. Smith is interested and influential in one of the largest corporations of its kind in the state.
Walter Ashton Smith was born at Monroeville, Huron County, Ohio, February 16, 1864, and is a son of Welding E. and Charlotte (Ashton) Smith. Welding E. Smith was born at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in which city he attended the public schools until eighteen years of age when he became an apprentice to the machinist’s trade. He was a natural mechanic and possessed inventive genius and after removal to Ohio went into the business of manufacturing farm implements, having secured patents on a number of his inventions. When the Civil war broke out he gave financial aid to the Union but was prevented from becoming a soldier because of the loss of his left eye, the sight of which had been destroyed by a fragment of flying steel in his foundry. He continued in the manufacturing business until his death although during his later years confined himself to the manufacture of felloes for use on the rims of wagon and buggy wheels. He was an industrious, temperate, moral man, respected and esteemed by all who knew him. He married Charlotte Ashton, of English ancestry. She was born in Ohio, September 19, 1837, and still resides near the old homestead of her father, Thomas Ashton, who was one of the pioneers of Huron County. By trade he was a stone mason and built one of the first brick houses in that section of Ohio.
Walter Ashton Smith was educated in the public schools and after completing the high school course at Monroeville, taught school for one year in Huron County, in the meanwhile making plans for the future that included the securing of western lands through Government grants. He was scarcely twenty years of age when he joined his older brother, Frank D. Smith, and proceeded to Nebraska, June 4, 1884. After considerable looking around they decided no land in that section suited their purposes and came then to Kansas and located in Decatur County. There Frank D. Smith pre-empted a claim and Walter Ashton Smith entered the contest for a quarter section. After that preliminary he returned to Nebraska and taught school for six months at Hastings.
Returning to Decatur County he taught school for a year when he was able to prove up on his preempted claim, June, 1886, afterwards locating at Oberlin, Kansas, the county seat, where he remained for a quarter of a century.
At Oberlin Mr. Smith made a good impression and soon secured a position in the office of the registrar of deeds utilizing his salary to pay for a course in the normal school. Subsequently he was made deputy registrar of deeds for Decatur County, an office he filled for three years. During this time a set of abstract books was compiled and later a half interest in the books and business was bought by Otis L. Benton, a banker of Oberlin. In 1902 the Decatur County Abstract Company was organized and incorporated with Otis Benton as president and Walter Ashton Smith as vice president and manager. They continued to conduct this with success until it was absorbed and replaced by the Benton & Smith Investment Company, with a capital of $50,000, controlling the only complete set of abstract books in the county, and enlarging the farm loan and investment business. This investment company continued in business until about 1908, the capital stock was increased to $100,000 by the actual earnings of the concern, the entire interests of the same being the sole property of Mr. Benton and Mr. Smith. In 1910 Mr. Smith sold his interest in the company, which, at that time had a surplus of $40,000. He did not remain out of active business very long, however, for in April, 1912, in partnership with J. P. Slaughter, he organized the Farm Mortgage Company, with a capital of $100,000, Mr. Slaughter being president and Mr. Smith vice president and treasurer. Since its inception this enterprise has been prosperous.
On May 10, 1893, Mr. Smith was married to Miss Julia E. McGrew, of Eureka, Kansas, and they have three children, a son, Marion Ashton, who was born January 27, 1897, is a student in the State Agricultural College at Manhattan, Kansas; and two daughters, Lucile Evelyn and Corinne Alice, both of whom are at school. In March, 1911, Mr. Smith moved to Topeka and bought a residence in Potwin. This removal because of Topeka’s excellent educational and church advantages, being made in the interests of his children. The family is interested in church affairs and many phases of the pleasant social life of the capital and a wide circle of congenial friends has been found. A short time prior to his departure from Oberlin, Mr. Smith built and gave to the Episcopal Society there a very beautiful church edifice–made of Coffeyville vitrified paving blocks –as a memento to his mother (a stanch Episcopalian) and as a thank offering to a benevolent Providence.