Saturday, May 31, 2008

Alphonso V. Smith; traced family to Presidio in 1781

By Jack Williams

May 4, 2005

To trace the ancestry of Alphonso V. Smith is to turn the pages of a history book of San Diego.

A great-great-grandfather, Jose Manuel Machado Sr., came to the Presidio of San Diego as a Spanish soldier in 1781. A great-grandfather, Jose Manuel Machado Jr., settled in Old Town in the early 1800s and built some of the first adobe homes in the community.

A grandfather, Albert B. Smith, shinnied up a flag pole in Old Town in 1846 to hoist the Stars and Stripes, signifying a victory by American forces in the Mexican War.

And his father, Albert Henry Smith, was a fixture for decades at historical celebrations in Old Town before dying at age 96 in 1951.

Mr. Smith, a retired county water district foreman who was born and raised in Old Town, died April 26 at Magnolia Special Care Center in El Cajon. He was 93.

The cause of death was complications from bladder cancer, pneumonia and congestive heart failure, said his nephew, Fred Shipp.

A longtime member of Boosters of Old Town, Mr. Smith could recall growing up in a small frame house on San Diego Avenue that later was converted into the Aztec Dining Room, a Mexican restaurant.

"He was proud of his genealogy and embraced his rich Mexican-California ancestry," Shipp said. "He enthusiastically participated in Descendants Days in Old Town and enjoyed the presence of his large, extended family around him.

"He was a link to California's past."

Mr. Smith dropped out of school to work at an Old Town nursery opened in 1921 by Milton Sessions, nephew of the legendary horticulturist Kate Sessions. At the nursery, he met his future wife, Nelda Ione Perry, a fellow employee six years his senior. They were married shortly before he joined the Navy during World War II.

Serving as a machinist's mate, Mr. Smith maintained diesel engines aboard a ship in the Pacific that was on the lookout for submarines, Shipp said.

Mr. Smith returned to civilian life after the war and began a career with the county water district that spanned more than 30 years.

Making his home on Ozark Street and Imperial Avenue in southeastern San Diego, where his in-laws owned property, Mr. Smith took pride in his garden. He later moved to Escondido, where he cultivated roses, shrubs and vegetables.

As his health declined, he moved into a mobile home park in Lakeside. Although he could no longer manage a full garden, he raised his trademark roses in Lakeside. "He had a beautiful set of flowers there until the day he died," Shipp said.

Alfonso Virgil Smith, one of 15 children of Albert H. Smith, was born Oct. 29, 1911.

His father had been born in an adobe house at Juan and Mason streets that Jose Manuel Machado Jr. built for a daughter, Maria Guadalupe, who married Albert B. Smith after her first husband died.

Alfonso Smith's father managed a ranch and grew grain crops in Loma Portal. His mother, Julia Cota, was his father's second wife. She was born in San Diego in 1865 and died in 1922.

A 1951 article in The San Diego Union described his father's recollections of the early days in Old Town when oxen would scare residents by breaking through fences and trampling gardens.

Of the 14 siblings who preceded Alfonso Smith in death – including half-brothers and sisters – the last was Dolores Searle, who died about eight years ago, Shipp said.

Mr. Smith's wife died in March 1992.

Survivors include daughters, Sarita Smith of Escondido and Juanita Smith of Oregon; son, Michael Smith of Del Mar; four grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Old Town, followed by a funeral at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.

Jack Williams: (619) 542-4587;

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