Friday, October 1, 2010

This Month in Rochester History

This month marks the 77th anniversary of the death of one of Rochester's most prominent early twentieth-century businessmen, James Wilson Smith. J.W. Smith was the proprietor of the Hotel St. James, located on the southwest corner of Main and University Drive (formerly Fifth St.), where the Bean and Leaf cafe is situated today.

Smith was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1847, and as a child immigrated with his family to Ontario. As a young man he ventured on to Michigan, where he worked as a wagon driver for a hotel in Pontiac. He worked in the hotel business for a couple of decades before deciding to try his hand at farming in Avon Township. His farm was a failure, and when the old Lambertson House in Rochester became available in 1890, James W. Smith bought it, refurbished it, and ran a highly successful hotel business there until his death on October 2, 1933.

The Hotel St. James was a hub of downtown activity for decades, and "Jim" Smith was an unabashed Rochester booster. He served as a member of the village council for six years and was always active in village affairs.

Local newspapers frequently noted that James W. Smith bore a striking resemblence to President William Howard Taft, and made a special point of being present to greet President Taft on each of his visits to Michigan.

James W. Smith died in his private apartment in the Hotel St. James at the age of 86 and was buried in Mount Avon Cemetery.

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