Modest Smith Mills had role in U.S. history


Smith Mills is one of those quiet little hamlets that dot our Western New York landscape – well-known to those who live in its vicinity, less familiar to those who don’t.

Like many of the small communities of its kind, it was once a thriving, well-populated place with mills and hotels. Today, it consists merely of a few houses, a small frame church and a country store clustered about a crossroads in the Hanover township.

It is a stone marker standing at the intersection’s northeast corner that gives Smith Mills its own unique identity, one which has its roots in our nation’s capital. A bronze tablet on a five foot-high boulder of native fieldstone proclaims this to be the birthplace of Mary Smith Lockwood, pen founder of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Mrs. Lockwood was born to Henry and Beulah Blodgett Smith in 1821 in the then-thriving settlement. Her grandfather was Isaac Smith, the original settler for whom the town was named. She grew up in Smith Mills, and as a young woman she taught school in Brocton. After her marriage to Henry Lockwood, son of Silver Creek’s first apothecary, she moved with him to Washington. Here she became interested in the cause for women’s rights and some of the progressive movements being formed at that time. She was also a friend of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, early champions of equality for women.

When the members of the Sons of the American Revolution decided to exclude women from their meetings, Mary wrote an open letter to The Washington Post quoting the case of Hannah Arnett, a woman of the Revolution who was responsible for keeping the New Jersey representatives faithful to the Patriots’ cause after General Howe had made a tempting offer of British forgiveness in exchange for surrender. Mary ended the letter by calling on female descendants of Revolutionary Patriots to organize. This brought a reply from W.O. McDowell, registrar general of the Sons of the American Revolution. He offered his help in organizing a society which he called Daughters of the American Revolution.

A short time later a small group of women met and appointed a board of management. The first formal meeting and election of officers was held Oct. 11, 1890, at Mary Lockwood’s home with 18 women present. Of these women, four were recognized as founders and Mary was one of them. It was she who later conceived and promoted the idea of a Daughters of the American Revolution. national headquarters, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1904.

Today, this impressive structure is an important cultural and educational center in our nation’s capitol. Therein, in a place of honor, is a statue and portrait of Mary Lockwood.

It was largely due to the efforts of the mother of our past County Historian, the late Elizabeth Crocker, that the marker at Smith Mills became a reality. When her research revealed Smith Mills as Mary’s birthplace, the marker was erected by the five Chautauqua County chapters of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It was formally dedicated in 1949 with county, state, and national representatives in attendance.

Agnes “Pat” Pfleuger is the former Silver Creek historian and current Dunkirk resident.