|ELIZABETH HUDSON SMITH|
|Elizabeth was born in Alabama on October 3, 1869, the daughter of Sales Hudson, a slave born on the Young Plantation in Frankfort, Kentucky. The name of her mother is unknown. |
On September 18, 1896, she married William H. Smith in Chicago, Illinois. Elizabeth and Bill came to Wickenburg, Arizona, sometime between 1897 and 1901, aboard the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railroad. Bill was employed as a Pullman porter by the line. The Smiths were probably the first Black people to settle in Wickenburg.
Elizabeth acquired a job as a cook at the Baxter Hotel and soon became well known for her culinary skills. As the 1900s progressed, Elizabeth and Bill approached Richard Baxter with a proposition to buy the Baxter Hotel and Baxter agreed to the deal. The Smiths erected a second story atop the hotel's ancient first floor. The ground floor remained with its original adobe foundation while the second tier was built of wood. The community was awed by the first two-story building in town.
Elizabeth's reputation as an excellent hostess and hotelier grew beyond the small desert community; her entrepreneurial efforts attracted the attention of Santa Fe Railroad officials who approached Elizabeth with the idea of establishing a second hotel on Frontier Street, closer to the railroad station. Since dining cars were not yet a part of train travel, weary travelers could freshen up and dine or stay overnight, before continuing their journeys
In 1905, Elizabeth and Bill embarked on the enterprise of building the Vernetta Hotel. Elizabeth hired architect James Creighton to draw up the plans for the hotel. Since Creighton and Elizabeth were devout Presbyterians, they designed a cross embedded in the lobby floor. The hotel boasted six smokestack chimneys to vent the many fireplaces and wood cook stoves. The Vernetta could provide lodging for up to 50 people.
The Santa Fe Railroad officials were so pleased with the hotel's accommodations that they erected a wooden platform from the train station right to the Vernetta's front door for their passengers' convenience. Elizabeth maintained the rooms as well as the kitchen while Bill operated the Black and Tan Saloon in a corner of the lobby.
Bill often wandered out of town and was gone for weeks. Eventually one day he never returned, so Elizabeth divorced him claiming desertion in November 1912.
An astute businesswoman, Elizabeth acquired a variety of properties including a ranch and a truck farm to provide meat and produce for the hotel. She also acquired business buildings, rental homes, a restaurant, barbershop, and an opera house and mining claims in and around Wickenburg. She was one of the founders of the first Presbyterian Church in Wickenburg and became a leader in Wickenburg society, hostessing many community events in the Vernetta Hotel.
As the years passed, the ongoing after-effects of the Civil War segregation and discrimination plus a slowing national economy eventually permeated the town of Wickenburg. Newcomers mistook Elizabeth for the hotel maid, and old- timers began to shun her on the streets and in her own establishments. Racial prejudice left her abandoned by the church she had helped establish.
When Elizabeth died on March 25, 1935, town authorities determined she should not be buried in the White cemetery. Instead her remains were interred in the Garcia Cemetery of Wickenburg.
Donor: Jan Cleere