Among notable people of the past who made important contributions to the city of Schenectady are banker Joseph Whitmore Smitley and his wife, Jane Ellis Smitley. Their generosity of spirit and civic-mindedness made life better for many residents.
Smitley home at 802 Union Street, 1910.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
Mr. Smitley was well-known for his charitable works. He served on the boards of many organizations, some of which he helped establish. One of his primary philanthropic beneficiaries was Ellis Hospital. He wanted to create a monument to his mother, Kiziah Whitmore Smitley. As president of the Board of Managers at Ellis, he knew that there were no residences for nurses employed at the newly constructed institution. With his own money, he built the Whitmore Home for Nurses, which was furnished at the expense of his brother, John H. Smitley of Pittsburgh, who was also responsible for establishing an endowment to sustain the home. An article in The American Journal of Nursing (1907) paints an attractive picture of the facility:
The floors are all of hard wood beautifully supplied with oriental rugs. The library and reception rooms are most attractive. Mr. Smitley has also furnished for the nurses a complete collection of all the standard works as well as a selected reference library. . . The sleeping apartments are models of their kind, with a sufficient number of bath appliances. We cannot but hope that the nursing work and nurses may find such friends as Mr. Smitley. A more fitting memorial than “Whitmore House” would be hard to find.
|Mr. Smitley's garage courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection and can be seen in The Horseless Age.|
|Elmer Avenue School in December 1973.|
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library
"She must have been an amazing woman. . . She had the first eight houses built on Elmer Avenue on spec, and it’s her name that’s on the original deeds. In 1903 that’s as far as the trolley went up, and those were the suburbs of Schenectady. She was from an old Dutch family, one of the first to arrive in Schenectady, and the Dutch really encouraged their women back then to be business women."
|Postcard of the Home of the Friendless. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.|
|Postcard of the Mohawk Golf Club. |
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle
Library Photo Collection.
Predeceasing her husband by fourteen years, Mrs. Smitley died in 1911. In her will, she bequeathed a total of $85,000 (worth around $2,258,000 today) to several organizations: $25,000 to the Hospital Association of Schenectady (Ellis Hospital), $20,000 to both the Old Ladies’ Home and the Children’s Home of Schenectady, and $5,000 each to The Schenectady Free Public Library, the YMCA and the YWCA. As one obituary read, “Perhaps but few will ever know the scope of her private generosity, and the words of advice and good counsel and expressions of sympathy and comfort that have gladdened many a heart.” She is buried at Vale Cemetery with her first husband, John Ellis, and their two children, Mary Cochran (nee Ellis) and John Elmer Ellis.
In 1913, Mr. Smitley married Margaret Neal McFarlane. When he died on November 30, 1925, he had been retired from his business life for fifteen years. The Schenectady Gazette noted his reputation as “Well read, highly cultured, genial and convivial,...greatly respected and beloved as a businessman and friend.” He is buried in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Cemetery, along with his first wife, Ida. He was survived by his son, Robert.
Additional photos of the Smitley's residence can be seen below: