• Jan Johnson & Jeff Hansen

Scott Smith (1847-1888)

Scott Smith was a barber, entrepreneur, real estate investor, and inventor. He was the most prosperous of the African Americans buried at Ritchie, but he also suffered from a mental illness that shortened his life.


Adjustable wash-bowl illustration in Scientific American

This is the first in a series of posts about some of the people buried at Ritchie Cemetery or their families. The post opens with a short anecdote, followed by broader-picture biographical information, and source notes. The first mention of each person buried at Ritchie is highlighted in red bold italic font.


A Smith mini-story patent no. 220,156


On September 30, 1879, Scott Smith and J. Lee Knight were granted Patent No. 220,156 for their design of an Adjustable Wash-Bowl to be used in barber shops.


Little is known about how the Smith-Knight collaboration came to be, but it was an intriguing pairing. Smith was an up-and-coming Black businessman who owned a barber shop. Knight was the Shawnee County Clerk, and had been since 1875. Before that, he was a photographer who produced some of the earliest images in the young Topeka community, dating to at least the summer of 1868.


Smith brought his barbering skills to Topeka in the early 1870s. By 1879, he was well on his way to becoming a prosperous, well-respected entrepreneur. He not only built a thriving business, he was active as a commercial real estate investor.


After testing a model of their wash bowl design in Smith's shop, the application was ready for submission to the U.S. Patent Office on August 6, 1879.


The inventors summarized the wash bowl's innovative features and practical utility:


"The special use for which this device is adapted is in shampooing. The head can be shampooed without the person getting up from the barber’s chair. The bowl can be extended to the side of the chair. The person by leaning forward or to one side will bring the bowl directly under his head, after which the barber has at hand hot or cold water, as he may desire, and a sprinkler….When not in use the bowl is folded back against the wall."

The wash bowl's principal components, identified in the diagram below, included: the wash basin (a); hot and cold water supply pipes (c) and (d); sprinkler (m); and, waste pipe (b). The entire fixture attached to the wall, and could be positioned with a hinged, flexible swing-arm.


Adjustable wash-bowl diagram; patent 220,156 approved in 1879
Diagram of approved patent design

The wash bowl was one of six novelty inventions recognized by Scientific American in its January 3, 1880 issue.



Bio in Brief


Scott Smith was in his early thirties when he received the wash bowl patent. He had been a Kansan for at least several years by then, having migrated from Ohio, the place of his birth. Unlike many of the African American migrants who came to Topeka several years later, Smith had never been enslaved.


Others in his family came to Kansas as well, with two confirmed to date—Margaret “Maggie” Stanup, his sister, and Yarmouth Smith, believed to be their father. Through Maggie and Yarmouth, the family’s roots were traced to Miami County, Ohio, where the Smiths were living in both 1850 and 1860.


Scott Smith’s earliest known residence in Kansas was in 1872. In the spring of that year, he lived in Thayer, a small town in Neosho County, where he had “an aristocratic barber shop.” Soon thereafter, he moved to Topeka, bringing with him a promising combination of barbering skill, business acumen, and competitive drive.


Initially, Smith partnered with Charles Grinstead in the Central Barber Shop, which they grew into a popular, thriving establishment. In early 1877, however, the partnership dissolved and Smith became the sole proprietor of Central Barber.


Within a year, Smith had expanded the business by adding a new service—bath facilities. A year after that, he built a small building near the Santa Fe depot, and opened a single-chair branch to serve rail travelers. In 1879, the same year he received the patent, he fought and ultimately won a months-long legal battle challenging the blue laws that restricted most businesses from serving the public on Sundays.


Central Barber offered good service at fair prices, and the result was a steady increase in loyal clientele. Within a decade, the scale of the business increased from four chairs, to seven, and finally, ten.

Ad for Central Barber Shop in Topeka, circa 1885

The ad above is from page 288 of the 1885-1886 Radges Topeka city directory. At the time, lot numbers were used as street numbers. Central Barber was actually in the 600 block of Kansas Avenue.

In the mid-1880s, there were 26 barber shops in Topeka, and seven "bathing room" establishments. Smith faced plenty of competition, but he advanced to or near the head of the pack. In January 1884, the Topeka Daily Capital lauded Smith’s business, calling it “the largest and most elegantly and conveniently furnished barber shop between St. Louis and the Rockies.” The Daily Capital praised the elegance of the both the barber and bath facilities, as well as the reasonable prices. The short article also conveyed a visual sense of the place—


“…[the shop] has caused visitors to open their eyes in wonderment at its magnitude. With its elegantly upholstered furniture, fine pictures, mirrors, and marble, in addition to the beautiful display of over 300 shaving mugs in thirteen nicely stained cases, alternating with the mirrors around the sides of the room, this shop presents a grand view, particularly after the electric light is turned on at night.”

Indeed, Central Barber was so stylish a setting that Smith and “twenty of his employees” hosted a social dance there in 1885, complete with a live orchestra, for the city’s Black elite.


As Smith’s wealth grew, he invested not only in his own business, but also in other commercial property, apparently with considerable success. In 1887, he decided to test his entrepreneurial and investing skills in a larger market. That summer, he, his wife Ogeal, and their daughter Margaret moved to San Diego, where he hoped to take advantage of the economic boom underway in Southern California. Unfortunately, his timing was off. The peak of the boom he hoped to ride had passed. Some of his property investments turned sour, at least from the standpoint of turning a quick profit. Regretting the decision to relocate, the family returned to Topeka in the summer of 1888.


The rest of the story is tragic. Smith had re-entered the barber and bath salon business in Topeka, but needed to make one more trip to San Diego to wrap up his business affairs there. He had displayed some aberrant behavior before he left; en route to California, his mental state disintegrated completely.


On August 26, 1888, at the Lamy rail junction near Santa Fe, Smith committed suicide by first ingesting poison and then by stepping in front of an oncoming train. His death stunned the Topeka community. Given that he had made a widely-publicized suicide attempt 12 years earlier, however, in retrospect it probably did not come as a total surprise.

Santa Fe depot at Lamy Junction, New Mexico

The Santa Fe depot and hotel at Lamy Junction, 1880s.

Scott Smith dashed out of this building when he heard a train approaching.

(Photo credit: Kansas Memory, a website of the Kansas Historical Society. Item #443529)

Rumors about his death attributed the cause to either the financial setbacks in California or domestic trouble, but the people closest to him refuted them. His mental health history and odd recent behavior suggested that deeper, longstanding issues had resurfaced.


Scott Smith’s passing prompted considerable press attention and admiring, respectful tributes. The wire service report of his death called him “one of the richest and most prominent colored men in Topeka.” Several of his friends published a signed resolution commending “his business life and success, his absolute integrity, his untiring energy and devotion to duty.” The Topeka Daily Capital described him as “…intelligent, shrewd, sober, industrious and well posted on current events…[a man who] stood very high with his own race and in the community at large.”



The Shattio Connection


As notable as he was in his own right, Scott Smith is of interest to our research project for other reasons, too. He was the second-earliest burial of an African American at Ritchie Cemetery that we have documented (the earliest being young George Manier, in 1886). News reports about Smith’s death are also the earliest mention we have found of the name “Ritchie Cemetery” in a newspaper article or obituary.


More important, though, is the fact that Smith was married to Ogeal Shattio, daughter of Clement Shattio and Ann Davis Shattio. Both Clement and Ann arrived in the area in the late 1840s, and are significant figures in early Shawnee County history. Ann Davis Shattio, in particular, has received considerable attention through the years because of her compelling story. She was born a free Black in Illinois, abducted as a child, and enslaved for years in Missouri. In 1849, while living in what is now Shawnee County, Ann Davis regained her freedom through a deed of manumission. About the same time, she married Shattio, a White man of French descent with roots in the St. Louis area. The couple settled permanently in Shawnee County, where they resided the rest of their lives.


We will have more to say about Clement and Ann Shattio in future posts. For now, we wrap up by posing a new possibility resulting from our research. We have found that there is not just one Shattio relative at Ritchie. Ann’s daughter, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Holmes, also is buried there. Since no other Shawnee County cemetery has recorded burying either Clement or Ann, perhaps they too were laid to rest at Ritchie.

Postscript


1. Yarmouth Smith and Jeremiah Stanup, Maggie Smith's first husband, are buried in Burlingame, Kansas. Stanup was a barber in Burlingame. After his death, Maggie married James McCain and lived in Hillsboro until she was widowed again. She and her children later relocated to Chicago.


2. Ogeal Smith, Scott's wife, lived in Denver with her daughter for a number of years, but returned to Topeka in the 1920s. She died in 1929 after being hit by an automobile. Ogeal is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, as are her sister Laura Shattio Wilson and several other Wilson family members.


3. Of the 26 barber shops listed in the 1885 Topeka city directory, two were operated by Scott Smith’s brothers-in-law, Henry Shattio and Henry Wilson. The latter’s business plan centered on providing an array of services—food, lodging, barber and bath facilities—to rail travelers who had stopovers at the Santa Fe depot. It’s possible that Smith ceded his one-chair depot branch to Wilson at some point.


4. There are several spelling variations for the Shattio surname. All of them are Americanized, phonetic derivations from the original French pronunciation. Clement's birth surname may have been Chattilon or Chattillon, but some have speculated that he may have been a Chouteau.


Source Notes


1. In addition to the items cited in the post, principal sources include: 1) newspaper clippings; and, 2) records accessed through ancestry.com, such as federal and state census records, city directories, etc.


2. The majority of the Scott Smith clippings can be found at the Kansas Historical Open Content website, a free resource available to the public because of a partnership between the Kansas Historical Society and newspapers.com.


3. Regarding the ancestry records, a Ritchie Cemetery Project tree was created on the ancestry.com site as a research aid. Rather than giving standard citations for all of the materials attached to individuals in the tree, we will reference the tree itself for those interested in reviewing primary sources.


As of January 2021, the ancestry tree is still on a private restricted setting, but it will be made public in the future. When the tree status is changed, we will do a short post describing the tree, the information it contains, and caveats related to its use.