Smith, Schuyler
Group of Letters of Lt. Schuyler Smith, of Geneva, Ontario County, New York, member of the 165th Depot Brigade, written during WWI while stationed at Madison Barracks and Ft. Niagara, New York, and Camp Travis, Texas, 1917-1918

37 letters, 169 manuscript pages, (with 30 retained mailing envelopes), dated 15 May 1917 – 14 September 1918, eight of the letters are undated, but fall within the time period of 1917-1918.

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The correspondence is made up of 24 letters written by Theodore Schuyler Smith to his mother, Mrs. Theodore J. Smith; 8 letters written to his father, Theo. J. Smith, both of Castle Heights, Geneva, New York; 3 letters written to his brother Sidney S. Smith; 1 letter written to his sister-in-law Mrs. Dora Smith, wife of Sidney Smith; and 1 letter written to his Aunt, Mrs. H. H. Schieffelin, also of Geneva, New York. (There are also 2 used postcards).

      Theodore Schuyler Smith (1894-1966)

Theodore Schuyler Smith was born on 11 January 1894, the son of Theodore James Smith (1863-1943) and his first wife, Alice Schieffelin (1861-1894), a daughter of Sidney A. Schieffelin (1818-1894) and Harriet A. Schuyler (1836-1882). He had a brother Sidney.  His father Theodore James Smith went into the family nursery business becoming the vice president of W. & T. Smith Nursery, a rather large and famous nursery founded by his father Thomas Smith (1820-1895) and his uncles William Smith (1918-1912) and Edward Smith (1822-1895). It became one of the best nurseries in the country, with up to 1,000 acres planted. William Smith, Theodore Schuyler's father's uncle, was the founder of William Smith College at Geneva, which eventually merged with Hobart College, becoming today's Hobart and Smith Colleges.

Schuyler, as Theodore Schuyler Smith, was called, was living in Geneva in 1900 and 1910. He graduated Hobart College, and then went in military service. The 1920 Census records shows Theodore back at home in Geneva. In 1922, Schuyler married Helen Radney Sholes (1896-1988). He is said not to have wanted to become a nurseryman, but the family business pulled him into it. He became the treasurer of the family company.  Together they had a son, Theodore Schuyler Smith, Jr. (1937-2015).

Schuyler died on 8 December 1966, at Geneva, New York. He was buried at Glenwood Cemetery in Geneva. His wife Helen died in 1988 and was buried with him.

Theodore Schuyler Smith's half-brother was Warren Smith (1905-1993), who spent fifty years of his life (1931-1982) working as an editor on Yale University's 48 volume set of Horace Walpole's Correspondence.

World War One Service

 As World War One began, Schuyler joined the Officers Reserve Training Camp at Madison Barracks, New York. The first 9 letters of this collection are written from the Madison Barracks area. He began his active military service on 27 November 1917 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Infantry, having taken basic training at Ft. Niagara, New York. Several letters are written from Ft. Niagara. He was afterwards stationed with the 165th Depot Brigade at Camp Travis, Texas, where the rest of the letters were posted.

The 165th Depot Brigade was one of the garrison units that received new recruits and prepared them for service overseas, and then processed demobilizing soldiers at the end of the war. The role of the Depot Brigades was to receive and organize recruits, provide them with uniforms, equipment and initial military training, and then send them to France to fight on the front lines. The Depot Brigades also received soldiers returning home at the end of the war and completed their out processing and discharges. Depot Brigades were organized into numbered battalions (1st Battalion, 2nd Battalion, etc.), which in turn were organized into numbered companies.

History of Camp Travis

A number of the letters in this collection (16 out of 37) are written by Schuyler from Camp Travis, Texas. Camp Travis was established in 1917 as one of sixteen National Army Camps in preparation for U.S. involvement in World War I. The Camp occupied 18,290 acres, with 5,730 acres adjacent to Fort Sam Houston. The site was selected on 15 July 1917 and by 25 August 1917 it was ready for the troops and by October 1917 there were 31,000 troops from the 90th U.S. Infantry Division at the camp.

The first camp commander was Major General Henry T. Allen who formed and trained the 90th U.S. Infantry Division mainly composed of draftees and volunteers from Texas and Oklahoma. In the early summer of 1918, the 90th U.S. Infantry Division left for the front in France. On 22 August 1918 the 18th U.S. Infantry Division under the command of Brigadier General George H. Estes was formed at Camp Travis. The 18th Division was in training when the war ended on 11 November 1918.

After the war ended Camp Travis became a demobilization center and discharged some 62,500 troops over a period of 8 months. The Camp became a part of Fort Sam Houston in 1922.

W & T Nursery Company

Lt. Theodore Schuyler Smith's grandfather, Thomas Smith, and his brother Edward, came to Geneva, New York, from England in 1837, at the ages of 17 and 15 respectively, and found work at the White Springs Farm, then owned by Gideon Lee, a former mayor of New York City. The two boys were brought over by an aunt and uncle, the Wilkinsons, who settled in Penn Yan. The oldest brother William (afterwards founder of William Smith College) stayed in England to help his mother and the younger children.

Prospects in Geneva were favorable, and so Edward Smith returned to England in 1842 with power of attorney to permit the family to sell their little place at Tyler Hill, north of Canterbury, where their father had been a woodman. The father died in 1829, aged 41. His widow and children came over to Geneva in 1843, and in 1845 they bought a small farm with a house on Castle Street, and land going back beyond what is now Lyceum Street. William Smith worked in a local nursery to get some experience.

Thomas Smith was the first to build a mansion on the new property, in 1861-1862; William Smith and Thomas's eldest son, William H. Smith, built imposing mansions there in 1876.

There were set-backs sometimes. During the Civil War, business was so bad that Thomas's children were told that there would be no Christmas presents because there was no money in the bank. Edward Smith, alarmed, asked to leave the company, and he was given one of the farms. After the war he asked to rejoin the nursery, but his brothers said that they had taken the risks of the depression, and so Edward would have to pay more to come back to the firm. He was outraged, and the families were not on speaking terms for some time.

The last years of the 19th century, and the first three decades of the 20th, were periods of great prosperity. The nursery became almost completely wholesale, selling through agents or to smaller retail companies.

Thomas's elder son moved to Rochester to start a wholesale dry-goods firm, but the younger son, Theodore J. Smith (our letter writer's father), who had graduated from Hobart College in 1884 and had studied law in a lawyer's office in the following year, joined the nursery company, and, after Thomas Smith's death in 1895, and William's in 1912, ran the company until his own death in 1943.

After 1900, the firm did more business with public parks. Thomas Welch, the genial salesman of the company, sold most of the nursery products acquired by New York City. Park Commissioner Gallatin used to come to Geneva with big orders. (When Mr. Moses became commissioner, this lucrative connection ceased.)

William Smith had gotten the company to import nursery stocks from England and France; this practice later led to the formation of a Franco-American Nursery Company in the early 1900s, chiefly for the importation of rose seedlings which French peasants were able to nurse better than the more impatient Americans could. However, American companies eventually were able to grow their own seedlings, and importation largely ceased. After World War II, Schuyler Smith procured a few shrubs from Holland.

Though business was slack during World War I, it revived vigorously afterwards, and W. & T. Smith, which had maintained plantings, was in a good position to profit.

By 1928, however, Theodore Smith realized that many new nurseries had sprung up all over the country, and that this over-production would ruin the business for everybody. He wanted to liquidate at once. His nephew and son (Theodore Schuyler Smith) protested that they had no other jobs available, and had lost money in the stock market, so he sadly continued a languishing business until his death. There was a partial bankruptcy before that, when he and his wife bought a couple of the farms so that the W. T. Smith Corporation, as it was now called, could continue in the nursery business. Under his son Schuyler, who had never really wanted to be a nurseryman, it struggled along, and the remnants were finally sold off to Dan Quigley in 1960.

In its heyday it had shipped trees as far west as Utah and Montana, but new nurseries in more southern localities enjoyed longer growing seasons, and could sell more trees, even though their products were less hardy than those raised in chilly Ontario County, New York.

Sample Quotations from letters:

“(Unit B. Detention Camp) 165th Depot Brigade, Camp Travis, Tex Jan 3/18

Dear Dad,

      I want to thank you personally for your fine Christmas gift and I appreciate it very much and hope I may be able to save it for the future. So far I have only drawn $7.00 out of my bank account here for board and with my pay check in my pocket for $155 to add to that, why I expect I must have about two hundred & fifty on hand.

      Being stuck out here is a good place to save as I haven’t left the grounds in quite a while. This past few days & more we have been working nights so as to get th4e men and their papers, clothes etc ready to ship. Since the 1st we have shipped out about 350 men to various camps. They are called Casualty Detachments and will go across sooner or later to fill up the gaps.

     Tomorrow we expect to send out 400 more to New York and that will clean us out, except for about thirty who will be sent back to their companies because of sickness or not properly vaccinated or inoculated. I had hopes that I might be picked, for one, to help take the bunch to N.Y., but nothing doing. A few days ago they shifted the job of handling the incoming men to me and that means I will have to stick around and settle up affairs after this last bunch leaves. When we are through here I don’t know where we will be sent. You see the rest of the men who came down with me, except the few over here, have been attending school in bayonet, machine gun, paper work, etc., but that will be over in a couple of weeks. Then quite a number go over to Kelly Field (aviation) to drill the men over there and possibly take up flying.  Possibly they may keep me on this work s they are organizing a battalion to handle such work. But whatever happens I expect I’ll be here for several days more….The trouble with this place is one doesn’t know how to dress as the changes are very rapid. The country certainly is a desolate strip and everything plastered with dust. It’s a wonder anything can be made to grow here at all.

     I don’t know whether I have told you or not, but we have moved to what are known as Officers Quarters. A one story affair with separate rooms about 8’ x 8’ and steam heat whenever there is a fire built in the stove or furnace as you wish to call it…Your loving son, Schuyler”

“Co. A, 165th Depot Brigade, Thursday 2/21/18

Dear Dad,

    You probably have seen my letter to Dora by this time and noticed I said something about telegraphing regarding the Income Tax. After I had written I found that it is not due until the first of April and hence no need of telegraphing. But the question is do I come under the law? You see I pulled in six hundred at the Training Camps and about one fifty for December as 2nd Lt. Then there are my dividends etc. This is where I am at sea, as I am not sure of the exact amount and whether or not they are all taxable. If you will please help me out I will be much obliged as I am having a terrible time handling my millions. Not in the spending line though.

      You should have heard the howl the men set up when they brought the Income Tax proposition up. They couldn’t see paying it for dust and the fact that state salaries are exempt and not gov’t helped the argument greatly.

      Since my Sunday letter nothing special has happened. One day is practically the same as the next. The grenade school finishes up this week so I don’t know what will happen after Saturday. Probably some of us will be detailed as instructors. I don’t imagine I will be really busy until the next draft comes in, unless I get assigned to a company. I sort of doubt this happens and expect to be here for some months to come. There are men coming in all the while, but they are filling the shortages. I don’t know when this Division will be ready to move and if I did it probably wouldn’t be for publication.

    I ran off my first movie show Tuesday night and I guess there were about a couple of thousand present. That makes quite a crowd when you get them in one building. I got away with it all right at least I haven’t heard any complaints so far. And tomorrow night I put on another show. Friday we have a holiday and parade of the whole Division (Camp) around San Antonio and these parades aren’t what they are cracked up to be as far as pleasure is concerned….You loving son, Schuyler”

“Officers Bn., 165th D. B., Thursday 18th [April 1918]

Dear Mother,

    …I am leading a dead life if there ever was one. I get up in the morning so that I can go to bed at night. My movies take up a little time now and then but most of the day I lie idle so far military training is concerned. I manage to get hold of a horse once in awhile and take a ride around the country. That’s pretty good fun and helps to pass the time away. Its rather interesting to note the different types of country with its trees, plants and flowers. Don’t think my term in the nursery did me much good so far as being able to recognize many of the species in these parts as most of them are new to me….

   The training goes on as usual and the last bunch of men that came in are rounding into shape, of course they aren’t experts at the game, but its surprising what they pick up in about three weeks and how they change. You would hardly realize they were the same men. I suppose we will probably get in more men the first of next month, but haven’t heard anything definite as yet….

     From the looks of things I will probably be stuck here for some time to come. Possibly I might get a seat to go over with the increasing numbers going over all the time, but I sort of doubt it. Still this is no game to figure on. You may be here today and off for parts unknown tomorrow and it wouldn’t make me mad if I moved…

     There is a fiesta or carnival going on here in town this week. Don’t know the reason, but anyways its here and its a rare production. They stick the tents and shows up in the streets and all over the place, and they collect the finest bunch of Mexicans & niggers you ever saw. I went down the other night with a bunch and looked the place over – took some chances on one thing and another and managed to collect eight or ten packages of cigarettes. The last night four of us hired a Ford and toured around the city and country for air and amusement….With love to all, Schuyler”

Co. 11 – 165th D.B., Sunday, 12th [May, 1918]

Dear Dad,

    Received your letter today and while in charge of the Co. this evening thought I may as well make use of the time. This company is composed of niggers and approximately three hundred & ninety strong. Strong in more than one sense of the word too as the bathing facilities are rather poor. In fact we have none down here in the tents except a pipe line at the kitchen. We have to march up to one of the barracks to get the real thing. These niggers sure are a great bunch and have more complaints than you can think of. It’s usually heart trouble and the cure is a good dose of salts. You see they get more to eat here I guess than lots of them have had in many a day and they just shove it down.

     We have done very little drill so far as most of the time has been taken up with fixing up the camp and getting them outfitted. There are four of us (Lts) in charge and there is plenty for all. I tell you when you form the company and stand at one end you need to have a klaxon to wake them up at the other end. Still on the whole they are a pretty fair bunch and most of them pick up the drill fairly quickly. There are a lot of little things you have to keep after them all the while about and they can scatter more rubbish around the place & faster than any bunch I’ve seen. We find the best way to discipline them & get them into good habits is to set them picking up stone, all day if necessary. They sure do hate this rock packing game when they have to turn in so many boxes full per hour.

    I doubt if we keep this bunch very much longer as from the way things look they will be moved out as Service Battalions as soon as they are in any sort of shape. Guess it won’t be long now before this Division moves, but I don’t see how I can get in on it not being with any regular outfit.

We expect ten thousand or so more recruits in here the last of the month so the Depot Brigade will have plenty to do….With love to all, Schuyler”