Century Old Wedding Anniversary Cake

50th Wedding Anniversary Cake
Bequeathed by Mrs. Margaret Tredwell Redfield Smith, 1909

On September 23, 1896, William Henry Harrison Smith and Margaret Tredwell Redfield Smith celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in Syracuse, NY.  The occasion was held without much fanfare that day because Mr. Smith, at age 82, was ill.  The couple had no formal entertainment but did honor their 50th wedding anniversary with pieces of commemorative cake.  Inside small, square cardboard boxes they placed pieces of the cake and tied the boxes with gold ribbon.  The couple attached small calling cards to each box of cake and sent them to their family and old friends.  The Smiths, who were married on September 23, 1846, also presented each other with gifts: a gold watch set with diamonds for her; an engraved loving cup for him.


The cake piece is surrounded by delicate lace trim and decorated with the couple’s 50th anniversary dates: 1846 & 1896.  In the center of the cake are the intertwined letters R & S for Redfield and Smith.  It is difficult to determine the cake’s consistency or flavor 124 years later.  It is now off-white mixed with brown, and after more than a century, it has become petrified.  But the icing ornamentation is still intact and highly legible.

So, who are William H.H. Smith and Margaret T.R. Smith, and why did they donate a piece of their golden wedding anniversary cake to OHA?      

William Henry Harrison Smith was born on June 5, 1814 in Litchfield, Herkimer County, NY.  He may have been named for William Henry Harrison, hero of the War of 1812 and, later, 9th U.S. President.  Smith began to farm at an early age, then moved to Utica, NY where he operated a grocery business for two years.  In 1839, Smith accepted a position on the Auburn & Syracuse Railroad, which eventually became part of the New York Central Railroad, the first rail line to travel from the Atlantic seaboard to the Great Lakes.  Smith married Margaret Tredwell Redfield on September 23, 1846.  They purchased a land tract in the Highlands section of Syracuse along Irving Avenue where Crouse Hospital and the Veterans Administration Medical Center is located today.  Once married, Smith resigned his position with the railroad and concentrated on further developing the economic prosperity of Syracuse.  He invested in the local street railway system and organized the Genesee and Water Street Railway.  Smith also became a member of the board of school commissioners, as well as a trustee for the Onondaga County Orphan Asylum and the Good Shepherd Hospital.  He also financially contributed to Syracuse University.  Smith was a founder and life member of the Onondaga Historical Association.  He loved the outdoors, fishing in the many streams and lakes, and walking through the woods and climbing the hills near and far.  William Henry Harrison Smith died on August 8, 1901 at age 87.  He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

Margaret Tredwell Redfield was born on January 6, 1825 in Onondaga Valley, now the valley section of Syracuse.  She was the daughter of Lewis Redfield, an early Onondaga County newspaper journalist and publisher.  Mrs. Smith was an enthusiastic naturalist, creating charts of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, with the help of her four daughters who drew the illustrations.  She also became a conchologist, a student of mollusks and their seashells.  Before her death, Margaret Smith donated her seashell collection to Syracuse University.  Both spouses also enjoyed studying genealogy and she was an avid historian.  She enjoyed writing on a variety of subjects, and one of her favorites was the history of Syracuse and Onondaga County.  Margaret Smith was a frequent contributor to the Syracuse Herald newspaper, regaling readers with her knowledge of pioneer and Onondaga Native American history.  In 1908, Smith presented to the city of Syracuse a memorial to her father, Lewis Redfield, in Forman Park, which cost $30,000.  Margaret Smith was a charter member of the Onondaga Historical Association and frequently wrote and read histories of people, places, and events at OHA’s meetings.  Therefore, because of her special and long-time relationship with OHA, it made sense that upon her death, Margaret Smith would bequeath many interesting and eclectic local history objects, including her family heirlooms, along with documents, books, and photographs to OHA.  Among this group of diverse items is the piece of commemorative 50th wedding anniversary cake, still cherished by OHA.   Margaret Tredwell Redfield Smith died on January 17, 1909 at the age of 84.  She is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.