Smiths Creek Train Depot

Story of the relationship of Thomas Edison and the Hart family

By Margaret Gould-Hart / Typed by Evelyn Jean Hart / 1929

In our rapidly changing conditions, old landmarks soon disappear and the new generations, whether descendants of the first settlers or the children of newcomers, lose much of local history and the spirit of the pioneers; so feeling that, possibly, I can add something of interest about that section south-west of Port Huron in St. Clair County, I contribute this bit of neighborhood history from the stand point of a daughter of a first settler and who as a child saw the original forest cleared away and the Smiths Creek Depot built.

A group of young Canadians living near Chatham, Northumberland Co., Ontario thought they saw an opportunity to establish themselves in the new commonwealth of Michigan, then just admitted to the Union. They were young married couples, ambitious to secure land and establish homes. Elias and Polly Williams were the first to venture. Crossing St. Clair River in 1838, they followed the banks of streams and bought their first land in the extreme northeast corner of St. Clair Township. Mr. Williams gradually added to his holdings until he had a farm of 300 acres. Shortly after the Williamses, came the families of Isaiah Moore and Adam Gaffield. The latter became the neighborhood carpenter and served for many years as a Justice of the Peace. Hiram and Reddick Hubble, brothers, soon followed and in 1858 came Henry Gould, father of the writer of this sketch. By this time the section became rightly known as Canada Settlement as all the settlers were from the same part of Canada, and all those so far named were more or less closely related. The settlement grew quite rapidly along the north and south line between the townships of St. Clair and Columbus. The Crydemans settled opposite the Goulds about 1857, practically completing the early Canadian settlers. Soon after, Dennis and Edward Jones came from “York State” buying land at the south end of the settlement, while the Irish were represented by three Hart brothers who bought and divided a section of land at the north end among themselves.

The Grand Trunk Railroad pushed across the river and struck this new settlement at the north, cutting the farm of James Hart nearly from corner to corner to the disgust of its owner. The plan seemed to be to establish stations at intervals of about ten miles and the railroad officials asked Mr. Hart for a donation of forty acres for the purpose. The honor of having a village on his farm did not in the least interest him and the Canadian brethren promoting the road had to find a location on the banks of Smiths Creek about three-quarters of a mile east of the town line for their station, thus founding the present village. A depot was needed for both the accommodation of passengers and living quarters for the station master, so it was announced that brick for the new structure would be bought locally. Henry Gould had a field near the road that seemed to possess the right quality of clay. As he knew little of brick-making, he hired Alvin Dudley for its purpose. While one lot of brick was drying before being burned, some mischievous neighbor boys walked up and down the rows, leaving a perfect imprint of a bare foot on each brick. Back in 1859 it was not so much of a joke for practically all the work was done by hand and considerable delay was caused by reworking the whole lot. However, the work must have been well done to have lasted for nearly three-quarters of a century.

The Great Civil War came. Most of the boys of the settlement were too young to go, but some went despite their ages. Interest grew intense. It was decided to buy a daily paper which was to be thrown from the train at Hart’s Crossing. Each family was to read and pass on until it came to rest with the Joneses at the south end. The expense of this new venture was divided among the settlers. William Hart, who later became my husband, was the boy delegated to get the paper at the railroad and after it was read carry it to the next neighbor. Yes, reader, you have guessed, the newsboy supplying the paper was Thomas A. Edison, whom William often met at the station and paid at the end of the week.

The story of Edison’s Grand Trunk Herald, his chemical experiments, his hasty exodus from the baggage car at Smiths Creek ending his newsboy experience, his interest in telegraphy from Station Master Kern, are all too well known to be repeated here, but here is hoping that many a youth as he views the old depot now here at Edisonia will be inspired to do greater things as did Edison in this same building sixty odd years ago.

What the author of this article may not have realized, this depot in its original location, was also the stationmaster’s home, and was the home of Mary Natalie Peck, the future bride of Myron Hart. Her father Byron Peck was the station master in the early 1900’s.

Depot relocated to Greenfield Village, Dearborn, MI