By Mark Gutglueck
The Smiley Brothers, Albert and Alfred, are perhaps the most prominent of Redlands’ historical figures. Nevertheless, the mark they made is even more pronounced in New York and in the arena of International Relations.
Born identical twins on St. Patrick’s Day in 1828 into a Quaker family in Vassalboro, Maine, Alfred Homans Smiley and Albert Keith Smiley were sixty years old before they even set foot in Redlands. Early in life they took delight in their visual similarity, as not even their mother, Phoebe, could distinguish them from one another. They purposefully set about confusing people and playing jokes on them by misidentifying themselves as one another. Their father, Daniel Smiley, was himself an identical twin who had engaged in the same antics when he was a child with his brother, Asa, and he encouraged them in this mischief.
According to A. Keith Smiley, a grandson of the twins’ half-brother Daniel, “When they were in New England, the twins went out on a double date with sisters named Bean. Albert and Alfred started out with their respective partners. During the evening, however, they slyly switched. The girls never knew the difference.”
People learned in their mature years that they could be distinguished by Albert’s round watch fob and Alfred’s square one. In time, they caught on and exchanged the fobs to perpetuate the confusion.
Born on a farm, the twins, when they were 14 in 1842, resolved to become teachers. In accordance with the academic standards of the time, they studied Latin and Greek, drilling each other in the dead languages while doing chores on their father’s farm. They attended Haverford College, a Quaker institution near Philadelphia, graduating in 1849. Even before graduation, the college hired them as instructors, with Alfred serving in the capacity of an assistant teacher of mental and moral philosophy. After graduation, he continued to teach in those areas as well as in the disciplines of philosophy and geology from 1851 to 1853. Albert became assistant teacher of English literature and chemistry from 1849 to 1851. In 1851, he was elevated to being a full professor in the same subjects.
When they reached the age of 25 in 1853, the Smiley brothers established an English and Classical Academy in Philadelphia to prepare boys for college. They closed the school in 1856, when Alfred was hired as the principal of the high school and general superintendent of schools in Oskaloosa, Iowa. The two years he was there was the first and longest time during their lives when they were separated.
When Alfred went to Iowa, Albert returned to Vassalboro, Maine, where he took charge of the Oak Grove Seminary, from which the twins had graduated in 1845.
In 1854 Alfred married Rachel Mott Swan of New Sharon, Maine, and their first child, Edward Albert, was born in 1855.
Albert married a few years later, to Eliza Phelps Cornell in 1857.
In 1860 the twins embarked on another effort together again, signing on with the Friend’s School, a semi-collegiate school in Providence, Rhode Island, where they took on administrative and teaching positions
Albert and Eliza’s only child, Annette “Nettie” Smiley, who was born Nov. 6, 1858, died on March 20, 1863, before she was five years old. This proved very difficult for Eliza, who suffered a breakdown in health and resigned her position as associate principal at Friend’s School. She endured delicate health the rest of her life, and never fully recovered from the loss of her only child.
Though Eliza Smiley left the Friend’s School, the twins, their sister Rebecca and Alfred’s wife, Rachel, remained there and were instrumental in turning it into one of the most respected of New England’s preparatory institutions, which was reflected in its growth while the Smileys were employed there, seeing its student body jump from 40 in 1863 to 200 in 1869.
In 1868 Alfred moved his growing family to a farm in New York State, where Albert soon joined him. The property they purchased together covered 115 acres.
In 1869 they purchased a ten-room inn and tavern and the surrounding 279 acres located on the Shawangunk Ridge, a section of the Appalachian Mountains, 90 miles north of New York City in Ulster County, New York. Shortly thereafter, they purchased the whole of nearby Lake Mohonk and on the grounds built the Mohonk Mountain House, a Victorian castle resort which to this day yet overlooks a pristine mountain lake surrounded by thousands of acres of unspoiled natural beauty. Almost immediately and then over succeeding generations, it became a highly valued getaway for generations of travelers.
Alfred went on to start Cliff House in 1879 and Wildmere in 1887, resorts at nearby Minnewaska Lake, with a network of carriage roads connecting them to Mohonk.
In time Mohonk Mountain House came to entail over 70 miles of carriage roads and 40 miles of trails for hiking, cycling, trail running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and horseback riding. It would evolve into a major destination for rock climbers, and now hosts 50,000 climbers each year who can take advantage of more than 1,000 climbing routes.
Five Presidents of the United States have stayed at the resort while they were the country’s chief executive — Chester A. Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton.
Because they were Quakers, the Smileys dedicated themselves to the cause of peace and used Mohonk Mountain House toward that end. In 1895, Albert Smiley convened the first of 22 annual conferences on international arbitration, held at Mohonk Mountain House. The intent of these convocations was to create a forum for national and international leaders to meet and discuss world problems in an effort to find alternatives to war. The conferences continued through 1916, and included notable attendees such as President William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, and secretaries of state of successive administrations. The conferences, dedicated to peaceful conflict resolution, have been credited with giving impetus to the Hague Conference movement.
Because it was initially a summer resort, Mohonk would close for the winter months, during which repairs, maintenance and preparation for the next season would take place. During one such hiatus in 1887, Alfred’s son Frederick ventured to Southern California and came upon Redlands, with its spectacular view of the San Bernardino Mountains. In 1889, Alfred, suffering from rheumatism, was prevailed upon by his son to sojourn to Redlands to see if the warm climate there might alleviate his symptoms. Soon thereafter, Alfred convinced Albert to join him, and together, they assembled Canyon Crest Park. The Smileys thereafter made Redlands their winter home. The beautiful gardens of the estate they created were open to the public, attracting thousands of tourists each year to the city of Redlands.
Albert and Alfred were famous for their philanthropy and civic service, becoming known as Redlands’ “patron saints.” The twins led the effort to fund and build the A. K. Smiley Memorial Library, donating parks and public spaces and beautifying the growing city of Redlands – giving their fellow citizens opportunities for culture and enjoyment that continue today.
Alfred died at 74 years old, in 1903, in Redlands. Albert died nine years later, also in Redlands.
On December 9, 1986, Mohonk was officially named a National Historic Landmark. The landmark extends beyond the Mountain House to 83 other Mohonk buildings of historic significance, 128 summerhouses or gazebos and the surrounding 7,800 acres of developed and undeveloped land.
In Redlands, Smiley Heights, one of the San Bernardino County’s most affluent neighborhoods, and A.K. Smiley Library, arguably San Bernardino County’s finest library despite being more than a century old, stand as tributes to the Smiley Brothers.
By Mark Gutglueck