Search Library Catalog

Smith, Lee & Frances (Altmueller)

by Dee Williams from an interview with Francis Smith

Leephonse Hober Smith was born to Mr. and Mrs. John Smith in Fairfax County, Virginia on March 21, 1888. After the death of his wife, John Smith and his four children moved into a boardinghouse where Alaska lobbyists were frequent guests. It was there that young Lee learned about the Alaska gold rush. He and a friend would dream and talk about going there to seek their fortunes. His father, John, was a master mechanic. Lee
worked in a harness shop as a mechanic.

At the age of 19, Lee set out to follow his dream. How he got across country, whether by land or ship around the Horn, isnít known. He told his children the story of being on a boat in San Francisco Bay when the great earthquake occurred and of watching events from the boat. The boat landed in Seattle. From there he worked his way to Juneau aboard a lumber ship, arriving in the winter of 1907.

After landing in Juneau, he inquired about jobs, and followed the trail to Perseverance Mine in the Silverbow Basin. Arriving there, after dark, very cold from the wind and being dressed in Virginia-style clothing of suit and coat, he sought work but was told that they werenít hiring. When they learned that he had walked the trail in the cold, instead of coming through the mine tunnel, they hired him to work in the assay office. He worked there for three years. He set up the assay test in one office and passed it on to the assayer who made the final test and kept the results a secret.

During those three years, he frequented Wagnerís Dairy that was along Basin Road where three or four cows grazed in Evergreen Bowl. When Nick Wagnerís wife was badly burned in an accident, they went south for treatment. Wagner asked Lee Smith to look after the dairy in their absence. After a while a wire arrived stating that Smith could have the dairy for ten dollars in gold coin. That was the start of Smithís dairy career that spanned 54 years.

After six months, his partner Bannigan left, and Smith advertised in the local paper for a partner. A local barber, William Altmueller, at Brunerís Barber Shop, answered the ad and became his partner. (Altmueller had arrived in 1909, from St. Louis, Missouri.) In 1914, Altmuellerís sister, Frances Christine Altmueller, came to Juneau to visit her brother. A romance that summer between Lee and Frances resulted in his going to St. Louis in 1915, and bringing her back as his bride. At their Juneau celebration, they were driven to their new home in a car decorated with milk bottles and cow bells.

Their dairy and family home was located where Harborview School now stands. Their summer dairy and grazing area was located where Nugget Mall is located. Over the years the Smith family enlarged their land acreage in the valley. Also during those years, many small dairies combined. In 1936, the four remaining dairies combined to form The Juneau Dairies. Later, the Smith family bought their partnersí interests and it became the Smith Dairy. Modern transportation and refrigeration made it economically unfeasible to continue local dairying. The dairy closed in 1965.

Lee and Frances Smith reared five boys and one girl: Lee W., Joe, Delores, Theodore, Francis, and Sidney. While growing up, all the children helped in the dairy, which left little time for after-school activities. However, they enjoyed family outings, skiing, hunting and other recreation on weekends and fishing in the summers. In the mid-1940ís, Mr. Smith took some of his boys on a sentimental hike up Perseverance Trail to the mine. All along the way he pointed out sites of interest and related them to memories of his experiences during his first three years while working in the mineís assay office.

Mechanical and construction skills from their grandfather and father were passed down to the children and those skills continue today through the next generation of children and grandchildren. Leephonse Smith died in July of 1949. In 1950, the Juneau School District condemned the town property to build Harborview School. Mrs. Smith did not want to move from her home. She passed away in February of 1951.

Oldest son, Lee Jr., married Marie, a nurse at St. Annís Hospital. They moved to Oregon where Lee went to college and worked for the Oregon State Recreation Bureau. He returned to Juneau and worked at the dairy until it closed, then went back to his home and occupation in Astoria, Oregon. They have one daughter, Denise, who resides in Salton, Washington.

Joe Smith served in the U.S. Air Force. While stationed in California, he met and married Betty Kirk of Canton, Ohio, who was a WAC serving at a post nearby. They returned to Juneau where Joe was active in mining and construction, here and on the North Slope, when the pipeline was built. Gastineau Contractors Inc. was his local business. He and Betty raised seven children. Their two sons, Joe, Jr. and Timothy, followed their father in construction. The five girls are Gail Sieberts, Julia Smith-Kibby, Becky Smith, Christine Thomas and Sharon Smith.

Delores, the only girl, was working in Sitka when she met and married a serviceman, Herb Bruns, who was stationed on the Lenora, a cable-laying ship. After WW II, they returned to St. Marys, Ohio, where he worked for the telephone company. They raised four children, Herb, Jr., Karen, Charlotte, and Cecelia. Delores passed away in October, 1999 in Ohio.

Ted Smith stayed with the dairy business after the Smith Dairy closed by becoming the distributor for the Carnation Company. He married Marge, who worked for the Juneau Lumber Mill. She was paralyzed in an auto accident. Her parents took her to their home in Chicago, Illinois, where she could get better medical care. Their one son, Ted, Jr., was raised there. Ted, Jr. enjoyed an Army career. He has one son, Teddy, and one daughter. Years later, Ted married Jenny (Sara Jean Nelson), a nurse at St. Annís and Bartlett Hospitals. She died of cancer.

Francis, due to a back problem, sought an alternative line of work. He trained as an A and E mechanic and learned to fly and to maintain airplanes. He worked for Alaska Coastal Airlines until it combined with Alaska airlines. From there he held several other jobs until an opening with the Juneau City Borough became available at the airport. He spent several years there before retirement in the early 90ís. He married Mary Johnson in 1966. They have two girls, Jennifer Williamson, who lives in Aiken, South Carolina, and who has two girls; and Eileen Sundburg, who married while in college in Eureka, California. She has two girls.

Sidney spent a tour in the service, then worked construction with his brother, Joe, on the North Slope and in Juneau. He met and married Elizabeth Hester, whose father worked for the FAA at the Juneau Airport. They have three children, Mary Frances Griggs, Kathleen Reid, and Todd. Kathleen has two children, Sydnee Michelle and Jaret Zackari. Todd Smith works with his father in the construction business.

The descendants of Leephonse and Frances Smith carry on the tradition of their parents - active support of the Catholic Church, civic and benevolent organizations, and community activities.

General Information +
Exhibits and Collections +
Education +
Public Programs +
Juneau History Research -
Museum Calendar
Friends of JDCM