Phelps Smith will contested, August 1938

There was a long court battle over the will of Phelps Smith who left $2,500,000 to establish a “Paul Smith College of Arts and Sciences in memory of his father, a pioneer Adirondack hotel man and utilities magnate.”

Following are excerpts of stories in the Enterprise about the legal proceedings; stories from 1938 stretching into 1939. At least we know the outcome, not from the archives, but from looking today at the beautiful campus of the prestigious Paul Smith’s College on the shores of St. Regis Lake.

The first class arrived in the fall of 1946 and about one half of the 200 or so students were World War II combat veterans. The Hotel Alpine was used as dorms for many of the students and wasn’t I lucky to be a bellhop there at that particular time in life what an education for me.

Aug. 2, 1938

“Ellsworth N. Lawrence, acting Franklin County Surrogate, said Monday he would render a decision about September 1, on charges that the will of Phelps Smith, who left most of a $2,500,000 estate to found an Adirondack College is ‘void, invalid and of no effect.’

“The document is contested by 22 cousins of Smith, who declare that the will is invalid because under its provisions the ‘property would not vest within two natural lives.’

“Counsel for the executor, the Adirondack Bank and Trust Company of Saranac Lake, contends the will is valid under the laws of charitable trusts and have cited a recent court of appeals decision in an effort to uphold the claim.”

Februar 8, 1939

“There may be further delay of settlement of Phelps Smith’s $2,500,000 estate to establish a Paul Smiths College because there was a likelihood that the matter might be carried over to the appellate division of supreme court.

“Attorneys for the executors and the college argued technical matters before Acting County Surrogate Ellsworth N. Lawrence yesterday. Judge Lawrence directed attorneys to file memoranda by Feb. 11 on the proposal of counsel for the college that the surrogate sign an order determining whether or not the college had a right to a special appearance in the proceeding.

“Counsel for the college are objecting to allowances of fees for counsel for the executors and seek to appear specially in the proceedings with these objections. In a memorandum issued after both parties had filed briefs on the question of special appearance, Judge Lawrence had held that the college was without a right to make a special appearance since it had already appeared generally.

Ask that fees be denied

“J. W. Davern of Plattsburgh, who, with Harry P. Kehoe of Plattsburgh and William S. Crapser of Massena, are representing the college, submitted a proposed order which, he said, embodied the statements contained in Lawrence’s memorandum.

“F. Ferris Hewitt of Saranac Lake and Paul Cantwell of Cantwell & Cantwell of Malone, counsel for the executors, asked opportunity to go over the order and opportunity to express views upon it.” [In other parts of the story there was an indication that appeals would not be argued until the May session of the appellate division.]

“Counsel for the college were denied two motions bearing on the matter of attorney fees. The first motion was to strike from the record all evidence taken in connection with the matter of attorney fees. Partial allowances of $25,000 each were made December 12 to Cantwell &Cantwell and Mr. Hewitt.

“The second motion denied asked the court to direct Cantwell & Cantwell and Mr. Hewitt to return to the executor sums already paid them.

“We believe the court had no jurisdiction to make any direction in the minutes and the bank, as executor, had no legal authority to pay such sums as attorneys’ fees, Mr. Davern said.

“He referred to $17,500 paid Cantwell & Cantwell and $17,000 paid Mr. Hewitt.

“In denying this last motion Lawrence pointed out that he has already reopened the matter of allowances to attorneys and that the question is still before the court.

“Meanwhile, the public, vitally interested in the prospect of a North Country College, is awaiting final settlement of the matter.”

[The Enterprise clippings are from the archives of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library.]