Smithgall Family History

(click on the links for photos and details)  

I began my research here at an easy starting point because I know my grandmother, Esther Victoria Smithgall was somehow related to those Smithgall's buried next to our farm field in a cemetery known as Oak Lawn or Christian Hill Cemetery in  Eldred Township, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.  I rode my horse through the paths in the cemetery as a child and became familiar with the names and prominent headstones always wondering about the demise of some of the young children who rest here.

As I became older and a parent myself, I began to ponder my roots and ask questions of my grandmother.  She told me that the Smithgalls were a very large family and she seemed somewhat reluctant to speak of them.  Her father, Kenneth Arthur Smithgall had died very young at the age of 30, nobody could remember why and she hadn't known him very well.  She told me that he was never around, but there was never any talk of a divorce in those days.  She said her only memories of him were when he came to visit her and her brother, Frederick, on his motorcycle with a sidecar and that they went for a ride.  Then her last memory was peering at him holding a white lily while lying in his casket.  She said she could never stand the sight or smell of lilies ever again.   Her mother, several years her father's senior, was left to raise four children alone.  Over the years, the information trickled forward and I began to understand.  

The Smithgall Family of the Williamsport , Lycoming County, Pennsylvania area became established in approximately 1850.  John Frederick Smithgall came to the United States through the Port of Philadelphia from Wuertemberg , Germany .  We are still uncertain of the town in Germany , but the name "Smithgall" translates to "forge in the woods".   The given name " Frederick " appears many times as the descendents are born into this family.  

Much of the initial Smithgall genealogy was researched by Harry Smithgall and his cousin, Helen Van Pelt Smithgall Hughes.  I would like to thank Paula Wolfram Ruwersma for her generosity in providing some of the old photographs that appear on this website.  

The story goes that there were five Smithgall brothers who came from Wuertemburg during the mid-nineteenth century, and some earlier.  One of them settled in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area while the others continued north to Lycoming County .  Another relative, Jacob Smithgall,  also settled prior to the arrival of our John Frederick Smithgall in Lycoming County in the adjacent township of Upper Fairfield in an area known as Fox Hollow which is located several miles northeast of the town of Farragut.  Two other brothers may have been German mercenaries who came earlier to help fight in the Revolutionary War.


Now that we have established that there are two local Smithgall families, we may delineate the one of interest here.  John Frederick Smithgall bought land in the northern-most reaches of Cascade Township on the western shore of the Loyalsock Creek along Wallis Run Road and established a large lumber mill there.  The family homestead still exists in good condition in a clearing just south the Huffman Church.  The farm house was painted white with fancy red gingerbread trim.  Across from the house and barn, the saw mill stood at the edge of the woods as well as one up the road a couple of miles at Joe Gray's Run.  In the 1970’s the Theta Chi fraternity of Lycoming College conducted an annual party there and it was known as Thompson’s farm at the time.  Little did I know that it was my family’s homestead!


John Frederick Smithgall met Rosanna Sharr and married her in March 1851.  Rosanna’s grandfather, Abraham Sharr had settled with his son, Frederick and became established in the adjacent Gamble Township for a generation or so by this time.  John and Rosanna had 15 children over the course of only 20 years.  Their first born in March of 1853 was named Daniel Smithgall.  Several of the children did not survive until adulthood as was common in those days.  The girls tended to move away with their husbands while most of the sons stayed to help their father in the mill.  Not so for son, Benjamin Franklin Smithgall, who headed south to the Atlanta, Georgia area where he and his family established the first radio station in the country; needless to say he became rich and famous.  Walter Smithgall co-owned the Smithgall and Ging Meat Counter at the Williamsport Market House with his wife’s parents.  Their original sausage recipe is still available today in limited quantities from the Don Waltman Meat Market at Court and Willow Streets in Williamsport.

The fourth son, Samuel LaRue Smithgall, my 2nd great-grandfather, stayed in the area helping at the mill and, unfortunately, managed to evade nearly every taking of the United States census.  We found that he established residence in Loyalsockville and took a wife, Matilda Egli of the Farragut area, who bore eight children, only four sons of whom we can account for to this day. In 1896, Samuel and his business partner Lloyd Sick established a first class hotel called the Hillsgrove House in Sullivan County. The partnership dissolved after only two years and the hotel was sold in March 1898 to George Walker.  The story of Samuel’s family is somewhat sad as Matilda passed away in 1902 while her children were all very young. This family tends to refer affectionately to their son’s by their middle names. We found son, Theodore “Palmer” Smithgall, then “farmed” out living with neighbors at the age of 13.  A desparate plea went our in the local newspaper to ascertain the whereabouts of Samuel Smithgall for his 15-year old son Palmer was seriously ill with pneumonia.    

Samuel’s son Kenneth “Arthur” Smithgall was our great grandfather, who was born in Hillsgrove in 1894.  He appears to have met our great grandmother, Ethel Viola Fry after she moved away to “town,” from her parents’ farm in the Muncy area, near the St. James Lutheran White Church which is located on what in now referred to as Mall Road.  They were married on February 2, 1912 shortly followed by the birth of their first daughter, Mary Matilda, on April 24, 1912.  Aunt Mary’s family reports that she was born in Warrensville, probably at the home of a relative of her father.  The family grew with the birth of a second daughter, Mabel in late 1913 then with Frederick in 1916 and finally our grandmother, Esther Victoria Smithgall was born on September 27, 1917.  In the meantime, we assume that Arthur had problems finding a steady job, as he seemed to be back and forth between Williamsport and Marysville, near Harrisburg .  We later learn that Arthur had some affection for distant sister-in-law's sister,  Freda Gawblick, who is Arthur's brother Palmer’s wife, Genevieve’s sister.  We can speculate that Arthur, Palmer and the Gawblick sisters were childhood friends in Hillsgrove, Sullivan County in the first years after the turn of the century in 1900.  We have never found Arthur living with Ethel in the census since their relationship was short-lived nor have we found any divorce record in neither Lycoming nor Clinton Counties .

A quiet relationship developed between Arthur and Freda resulting in three children: Kenneth born in 1920; Robert born in 1921, and Merrill John Smithgall born in 1922.    Merrill became a co-worker and friend of my father’s in the 1970’s and they shared stories of the Smithgall name and how they must be related.  Merrill never knew that he was a half uncle to my father.  

Arthur was apparently visiting his brother, Palmer, in Marysville for Thanksgiving, when he suffered a fatal bout of diabetic shock on November 27, 1925.  His death certificate lists only that he was married, but no ONE wife’s name is mentioned.  We are uncertain of his actual burial location since the death certificate states that he was buried in Marysville but our grandmother says she remembers attending his viewing.  One cannot imagine Ethel given her disadvantaged financial situation bringing all her children to Marysville in 1925 for a viewing so we are inclined to believe that he is buried in the Montoursville Cemetery , where a grave marker bearing his name rests in the Smithgall family plot.

Arthur's families grew up independent of each other; Ethel and her family in Williamsport and Freda and her family in the Renovo area of Clinton County . 

This researcher finds it amazing that of all the original 12 Smithgall children, only our great-great grandfather’s family have proliferated in the Williamsport area. 


Our third great grandfather, John Frederick Smithgall, came to America during the Wuertemburg immigration wave in the mid-1850s.  Family stories tell of five brothers having come to America through the port of Philadelphia migrating northwest.  The name “Smithgall” means "one who has a forge in the woods".  We have record of one other Smithgall in Lycoming County , we are unsure of the relationship to our family, but we assume they are close relatives since they settled with 10 miles of each other.  This other Smithgall family settled in the Farragut area of Upper Fairfield Township , Lycoming County in a place known as “Fox Hollow”.  A family cemetery can be found there on Slagenwhite Hill Road.  Another brother settled in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area where one of the great-grandsons was the mayor of Lancaster until about 2006.   Another brother was said to have drowned while en route to his new settlement.