Erie County (PA) Genealogy
John Robert Smith Journals
Contributed by Beth Simmons
NEW ERIE COUNTY DISCOVERY
John Robert Smith Journals
During the summer of 2003, a great primary resource of
and City of Erie surfaced. Where?
, of all places.
Robert Smith came from England
as a ten-year-old boy with his family in 1830. The family joined relatives in
NY, south of Rochester
He received a ‘gentleman’s education’ providing him with the common sense to be
elected one of the two Justices of the Peace for over twenty-five years during
the last quarter of the century in Harbor Creek. Judge James Chambers was the
other Justice who served for over fifty years.
JR Smith settled
in Harbor Creek as a young man for about ten years when he was single. Then he
married Melissa Leach (daughter of preacher Job Leach) and they moved to
In 1857, Melissa died in childbirth and in his grief,
JR brought the baby back to North
Township where the Leach’s lived.
JR worked both in New York and in
Pennsylvania. He boarded and worked
in Harbor Creek at the Samuel Kingsbury’s along the Sidehill Road. Leaving Melissa
in the care of her grandmother, JR apparently enlisted in the Civil War out of
NY, as a wagon-maker, his trade.
On his return from
the War and the surrender, he purchased a house along
Road in the village of Harbor Creek and a piece of
property big enough for a wagon shop. He began keeping his journal on the tenth
anniversary of his father’s death in April of 1867. Writing in the journal faithfully every week
on Sunday afternoon or evening, JR recorded the weather, the family life, the
church and village life, and activities in Erie
County and the city. He expanded
the weekly writings to include international politics and sometimes poems or
statements he had read during the week.
grandson, Ralph Waldo Thomas, Erie
weatherman and newspaper columnist had the foresight to copy the first journal,
so it remains intact. It covers about seven months during 1867-1877. Then there
is a wide time gap when the original journals continue in 1894. The rest of the
collection covers the time until 1899 with but one gap.
end of that time period until 1917, Ralph Thomas also kept a journal, so
grandson and grandfather relate their thoughts on the same days for a number of
granddaughter, Kathye Thomas, who lives in Denver
and is a copy editor for the Rocky Mountain News, owns the journals. She
and Harbor Creek
Township coordinator, Beth Simmons,
(who lives in Lakewood, Colorado
are transcribing and editing the journals and preparing to publish them in some
form, complete with photographs and maps.
The journals are
JR’s personal history of Harbor Creek and the surroundings and include probably
five hundred names and details of neighbors, city officials, lawyers, judges,
and doctors. The journals tell of the old Presbyterian Church in Harbor Creek,
then the new building. They relate the remodeling of the
Church that once sat along the
Road. They tell of the ‘Nickle
Plate’ railroad, a trip to Europe, and a trip to
New York. One tells of the Bicentennial
Celebration in Erie in 1895 and the
laying of the library’s cornerstone. JR relates the development of the grape
industry and the strawberry business in Harbor Creek. He tells of the lawsuits
of Harbor Creek. He describes fires that burned houses and barns. And for those
fanatical weather watchers, the weekly writings give a day-by-day play of the
climate changes. He even describes local baseball games!
These journals are
the most important Harbor Creek personal primary resource ever to surface. The
Harborcreek Historical Society has copies of the originals. However,
transcriptions are forthcoming and when published, will furnish a great
historical (and easier to read) study in the history of Harbor Creek and
This page was last updated on Tuesday, January 6, 2004 .
Erie County Genealogy
to Family Histories & Biographies
Harbor Creek Township
© 2004 Erie County Pennsylvania Genealogy