Struggles nothing new, but life goes on


“This p.m. girls and me down town. Got mortgage on Jos. property released. J. Carney got a little smart on a little technicality in one of the notes. Talked over financial situation with Anna.”

– from Alexander Smalley diary, Jan. 2, 1902

When hard times hit, they tend to hit extremely hard. Or at least it is much easier to count them that way than we do the good years.

For Alexander Smalley, who had flourished for several years as the livery stable owner in Ashland in the late 1800s, the hard times resulted from the advent of the railroad.

The lost years. After many years of keeping a daily journal, busy and successful years, followed by hard luck, meant that he did not write a single word in a journal for six years.

He opens his first diary after that long drought on Sept. 6, 1901 with, “President McKinley shot in Academy of Music, Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo at 4 p.m. by the miserable wretch Leon Czologose.”

It was not until Sept. 14 that all hope for Ohio native McKinley’s recovery is gone. “President McKinley died this Saturday morning at 2. Our town bells all tolling at 7 a.m. told us he was no more. Our country should adopt some measure by which anarchism can be stamped out, root and branch.”

Moved to Ashland. Just what all had transpired in Alexander and Anna’s personal lives over the course of six years remains a mystery. The diary entries of late 1901 leads one to believe the family had moved to a farm near Ashland, their once-thriving livery stable business gone.

It can be assumed that the family lost their livelihood with the advent of the Ashland and Western Railroad, completed on Oct. 12, 1899. It was a 21.35-mile-long rail line which came through Ashland to Jeromesville, connecting with the Pennsylvania Railroad near Loudonville.

The railroad was dubbed “The Rattlesnake Line” because of the number of rattlesnakes encountered in building the line.

Later on, the rail line was extended to Lorain and its name was changed to L A & S for Lorain, Ashland and Southern.

It is in reading these old diaries that we are reminded that life, then as now, was filled with tragedies such as the tragic assassination of a beloved president, as well as terrible personal losses as advances were made which helped some and hurt others.

Alexander, his wife and three daughters had suddenly gone from among the wealthy and prosperous in Ashland to those who were struggling and in need of a brand new plan for survival almost overnight. Very few people were riding their horses in to town anymore, as the railroad provided an amazing and efficient method of transportation to everyone.

But life went on. Adjustments were made, prayers were said, many heartaches were softened by the good stuff of life: weddings, arrivals of babies, parades, fireworks and celebrations of all sorts.

Life goes on. We just have to keep swimming right along with it. Sometimes the tide carries us, other times we are forced to swim against it.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.